Rapp looked at Dickerson and with a slight grin said, “As you may have already guessed . . . it’s pretty hard to offend me.”
“No . . . I wouldn’t imagine you care too much about other people’s opinions. Probably not even the president’s.”
“I don’t want to sound disrespectful,” Rapp said. “He is our president after all . . . it’s just that I’ve been at this a while. I’m a little jaded.”
“So am I. I’ve worked in this town for fifty-five years. I’ve seen a lot of administrations come and go and while each one has its strengths and weaknesses, the good ones all have something in common.”
“What’s that?” Rapp asked.
Rapp’s face showed his surprise. There were a lot of words he could have anticipated, but this was not one of them. “How so?”
“This is a shitty business and the chief executive needs to stay out of the shit. I served in the Navy after college. Learned a lot about a lot of things, but the thing that impressed me most about the Navy was the way they thought everything through to the tenth . . . twentieth . . . sometimes hundredth degree. The way they design those ships is amazing. The training . . . everything is geared toward not just putting out a fire, but putting out the fire while still taking the fight to the enemy. You take a torpedo, up front below the water line, you close the watertight doors and keep fighting. You seal off that part of the ship and there more than likely are going to be some guys who aren’t going to make it out . . . but you seal the doors anyway.”
“I’m that watertight door between you and the president.”
Rapp thought about it for a moment and then said, “So in other words you expect me to put my neck on the line, but if things start going bad . . . water starts flooding the compartment, to use your analogy, and I try to get out, you’re going to slam that door in my face and let me drown.”
Now it was Dickerson’s turn to put a frown on. “No, that’s not what I’m saying.”
Rapp’s version of the sinking-ship analogy was more accurate than Dickerson would allow himself to see. The only problem was, the political operative, mostly due to his station in life, viewed the scenario from the top down. Not an unusual thing for a wealthy, successful person. Dickerson naturally saw himself on the bridge of the ship with the captain. To save the ship others would have to die. Conveniently, however, they would also be saving themselves. Rapp understood the draconian necessity in the military application, but in the political arena it was tinged with selfishness and arrogance. Especially when bracketed in the context of national security. The number of politicians in Washington who were willing to stand on principle and put the security of the country before their beloved party was quickly becoming a pathetically small group. They’d all spent too much time on the bridge and not enough time in the engine room.
Rapp leaned back and crossed his legs. “I think that’s pretty much exactly what you’re saying.”
“No.” Dickerson shook his head vehemently. “And trust me on this, the president is a big supporter of yours. I have advised him, however, that due to the way things work in this town it would be best if he kept a few people between himself and you. Especially in light of what he wanted to talk to you about today.”
Here it is, Rapp thought to himself. He bet a guy like Dickerson billed between five hundred and seven hundred dollars an hour, and while it was unlikely that he would be charging the president for this slice of time, he was nonetheless an extremely busy man who wouldn’t bother coming out to Langley unless it was something serious.
“As I already stated, the president is not happy about the FBI’s lack of progress.”
“I know some of those guys, and to be fair to them, the Justice Department isn’t doing them any favors.”
“I wouldn’t disagree with you, but we are a nation of laws.”
Rapp leaned forward and put out his hand, giving Dickerson the stop sign. “You know you’re the second person today who has used that line on me and I gotta tell you I think it’s a copout.”
Dickerson was not used to people speaking to him so bluntly. “Really?”
“A throwaway line that means everything and nothing at the same time.”
“You don’t think we’re a nation of laws?” Dickerson asked.
“No . . . I agree we’re a nation of laws, but there are a lot of people running around parroting that statement without any sense of history.”
“I think I have a very good sense of history.”
“Then help me with this . . . when did we get so hell bent on affording our legal protections to our enemies?”
Dickerson paused a beat and then said, “That’s a complicated answer, Mr. Rapp.”
“No, it isn’t,” Rapp replied bluntly. “You don’t want to answer it because you’re going to ask me in a very coded way to put my neck on the line and break these very laws you and the president pretend to hold so dear, and if I’m right about that, I’d appreciate a little honesty from you on this issue.” Rapp paused for a beat and then added, “And don’t worry, I won’t be running to the press. Not my style. The only people I dislike more than politicians are reporters. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page, before you send me down to the engine room to plug the leak.”
Dickerson nodded as if to say, fair enough.
Kennedy held up a finger, looked at Rapp, and said, “If I may?”