When President Barack Obama failed to show up mentally for the first presidential debate in Denver, there was immediate speculation that he was preoccupied with some looming domestic or foreign policy crisis the rest of us weren't privy to.
Looking back at that debate now, it is tempting to imagine the reason for Mr. Obama's lassitude boils down to a variation of the following complaint: "How did I end up with a director of the Central Intelligence Agency who is not only 'shagging' his official biographer, but leaves an email bread crumb trail visible enough for even the FBI to follow?"
Alas, according to every credible source so far, Mr. Obama wasn't briefed about CIA Director David H. Petraeus' extramarital affair until the day after the election, which is weeks after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor allegedly found out about it. Mr. Cantor, a Republican, was tipped off by an FBI agent freelancing the information outside the bureau's chain of command.
Last Thursday, Mr. Petraeus told the president that he'd let down the American people and offered to resign. Mr. Obama had been counting on Mr. Petraeus sticking around for his second term because he has been an outstanding leader at the CIA. The president wasn't eager to take one of America's most effective assets in the counterterrorism game off the board.
After brooding overnight, Mr. Obama accepted his CIA director's resignation early Friday morning. That's when the most titillating Washington sex scandal in years took over the headlines.
Still licking its wounds after Gov. Mitt Romney's Election Day defeat, the right-wing media and blogosphere quickly pivoted from grudging mea culpas to a new meme -- President Obama "iced" his own CIA director to prevent him from testifying this week before Congress.
This narrative assumes that under oath, Mr. Petraeus would be forced to break with the administration and "tell the truth" about the death of the four Americans killed during a terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.
Because the president is nothing if not a human lint brush for paranoid theories of every imaginable stripe, this is to be expected with a story as murky as this one.
The proximity of the Benghazi hearings and the timing of Mr. Petraeus' resignation shortly after the election, when some people in the FBI and Justice Department have known about "l'affaire Petraeus" since the summer, makes this story an irresistible jump ball for the political press already bored with narratives about how the GOP screwed up.
Still, not even the most imaginative conspiracy theorist has been able to come up with an explanation for why Mr. Cantor, a partisan Tea Party ideologue, sat on such explosive information in the weeks leading up to the election instead of exploiting it on behalf of the GOP.
Are we to assume that Mr. Cantor, like Mr. Petraeus, was concerned with "protecting" Mr. Obama from embarrassment on the eve of his historic re-election? Hardly. It is more likely that Mr. Cantor assumed Mr. Romney already had the election in the bag even without the Petraeus scandal greasing the rails.
If anything, Mr. Cantor probably wanted to keep his powder dry until the Benghazi hearings. That's when embarrassing info about Mr. Petraeus would have most likely "leaked" from any number of self-interested quarters if he stuck with the Obama administration version of events. Still, the House majority leader's discretion so far has been admirable, whatever his motives for keeping his mouth shut.
Lots of folks in Congress are upset that they weren't briefed about the FBI's investigation of potential security breaches at the CIA when any number of them would've broken all land speed records in leaking the info to the media for short-term political gain.
A more interesting question is how the FBI got to go on a fishing expedition that ultimately led to Mr. Petraeus' resignation, even after it determined early on that the former CIA director's lover had not compromised national security. Is the FBI engaged in a petty vendetta of some kind? How does an FBI agent leak info to Eric Cantor and keep his job? This is actually the sleaziest part of this affair -- not the adultery.
There's a reason that the Obama administration gets poor marks from civil libertarians. In many ways, the Justice Department under Eric Holder is as bad as its predecessor. From busting users of medicinal marijuana to the incompetent handling of the Petraeus affair, we're all way past ready for new DOJ leadership.
Tony Norman: email@example.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.