Republicans are demanding a special prosecutor to investigate. Obama wants to avoid that path, for good reason: Special counsels take a long time. The prosecutor who investigated the leak of a CIA officer’s identity during the George W. Bush administration took three years; the investigations of President Clinton took seven.

If Obama wants to avoid that fate, he’s going to have to press McDonough and his insular staff to do more. They could start by heeding the advice they got during a quiet meeting last week of Democratic veterans of earlier scandals.

“You’ve got to get out in front of it,” said Mike McCurry, who served as Clinton’s spokesman during that president’s darkest days. “Otherwise, you risk getting run over.”

And when Congress asks for documents, the lawyers may advise the administration to resist — but it should negotiate instead.

“The minute you start fighting over it, everybody will assume, rightly or wrongly, that you’re trying to protect the president over something nefarious,” former CIA General Counsel Jeffrey H. Smith noted.