Any taxonomy of first friends includes a few familiar types. There’s the amiable glad-hander destined for the outer Cabinet, like George W. Bush crony Don Evans. There’s the scheming, scandal-prone loyalist, like the Clinton hanger-on Harry Thomason, of Travelgate infamy. And then there’s the discreet consigliere who serves alternatively as fixer, sounding board, chief surrogate, and all-around defender of the faith. Personal friends with such outsize influence are actually quite rare in presidential politics. Within recent administrations, only Valerie Jarrett really fits the profile.
Just after dawn on a cool morning in September 2008, two FBI agents and a police officer walked into the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas and took the security elevator up to the twenty-third floor, where they knocked on the door of a high-roller haven known as the Grand Lakeview Suite. A Minnesota businessman named Tom Petters answered wrapped in a bathrobe. After a moment’s hesitation, he invited them in.