To break down this particular element of an ever-expanding story, West Wing Playbook called LEON PANETTA, who served both as White House chief of staff under BILL CLINTON and secretary of defense under BARACK OBAMA. This conversation has been edited for length.
What’s gone through your mind has you’ve followed this story?
He’s accepted responsibility and said he’s going to do a better job. Look, I’ve been in and out of Washington for over 50 years. There’s a lesson that is always very hard to learn in Washington, which is that you’re always better off telling the truth. And if you in any way try to avoid it, the truth is eventually going to come out. And you’ll pay a price.
How did this communication work for you when you were in these roles?
When I was chief of staff, it was the case that people in the Cabinet called me and gave me a heads up if they were either going to be gone, leave town for a while or be hospitalized. We had a policy that that should be the case.
And when I was in the Obama administration, I would stay in pretty regular touch with Rahm Emmanuel, who was chief of staff, both with regards to where I was going, but also the operations I was involved with.
So there wasn’t a handbook on your first day laying out those expectations on the delegation of power and communication? It’s more of an understanding?
There’s been a gradual deterioration here with regards to the role of the Cabinet. Because so much authority is centralized in the White House these days, the Cabinet really only comes together usually for a press briefing by the president.
Normally, what should be the case is there’s a secretary to the Cabinet, and there should be regular meetings with the Cabinet to not only inform them about issues going on but also to stay in touch with them, so that they feel like they’re part of the team. As that relationship generally has been strained in the last number of years, I think everybody kind of operates on their own. You saw a little bit of that happen here.