walk the cat back
v. To attempt to understand the true nature of a situation by reconstructing events chronologically from the present to the past.
Other Forms
The forward-looking effort to spot trouble on the horizon has a counterpart in the backward-looking effort to figure out what went wrong after trouble has in fact arrived. Intelligence analysts, who often have to second-guess themselves after defections and other failures, have a phrase to describe this kind of diagnostic deconstruction: 'walking back the cat.'
—Cullen Murphy, “Walking Back the Cat,” The Atlantic Monthly, December 01, 1991
1984 (earliest)
Some bankers are deeply unhappy about the changes. 'I accept that concept of a special role, of the uniqueness of a deposit-taking privilege,' said John R. Petty, chairman of the Marine Midland Bank and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. 'But something happened on the way to the farm. Some years back that uniqueness disappeared. Had the regulators and Government been resolute in preserving it, the whole view of the banks in the community and deregulation would have taken a different course.'

'I find it inconceivable that anybody could walk the cat back,' lamented Mr. Petty.
—Robert A. Bennett, “A Banking Puzzle,” The New York Times, February 19, 1984
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