The time Karl Rove reportedly offered someone a job to get them to drop out of a race

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Last week, I noted that Karl Rove's insistence that the Obama administration violated a statute that "prohibits a federal official from interfering... with the nomination or election for office" with its offer to Rep. Joe Sestak appeared to implicate him in numerous similar "crimes" during his tenure at the Bush White House. But it gets better: Back in 2004, Rove reportedly offered Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) a Cabinet post, which would have prevented the senator from standing for re-election.

Somehow, this reported offer did not result in Sean Hannity detailing numerous "crimes" the Bush administration had committed or Dick Morris claiming that an "impeachable offense" had taken place. I know you're shocked.

On November 17, 2004, CNN reported that Nelson "has been approached about becoming agriculture secretary in the Bush administration, according to two sources," adding that "President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, spoke to Nelson about the possibility in a telephone conversation last Friday, according to the two sources familiar with their conversation." CNN noted the obvious political implications -- Nelson would have to resign his Senate seat if he accepted the position, and his successor would be selected by then-Gov. Mike Johanns, a Republican.

CNN further reported that Rove's "office would not confirm or deny a specific conversation with Nelson, adding that it is Rove's practice not to divulge private conversations with members of Congress." Or, as the right-wing would put it if the White House had been held by a Democrat, the administration stonewalled the press and refused to detail its "crimes."

Two days later, the Omaha World-Herald reported that Rove had asked whether Nelson would accept the position if President Bush offered it to him, but that Nelson had "said no":

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson has told the White House he is not interested in becoming President Bush's agriculture secretary, a congressional source told The World-Herald on Thursday.

The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said White House political adviser Karl Rove called Nelson last Friday and asked whether he would take the job if President Bush offered it. After consideration over the weekend, Nelson said no Wednesday evening, the source said.

On November 22, 2004, Nelson publically stated that he would not seek the cabinet post. On December 3, 2004, the World-Herald cited a "congressional source" who detailed three phone calls between Rove and Nelson. In an April 14, 2005 report, the World-Herald reported that Rove had "called Nelson four times -- if not outright offering him the job of secretary of agriculture, apparently at least implying that the job was his if he wanted it," and detailed the explicitly political nature of the offer:

Had Nelson become ag secretary, the thinking went, then Gov. Mike Johanns would take Nelson's seat in the U.S. Senate for the GOP, then run in 2006.

And in a December 26, 2004, editorial, the Dallas Morning News wrote that President Bush "dispatched Mr. Rove to sound out" Nelson about the Cabinet post. If you're wondering, this is where Sean Hannity would be chiming in "what did the president know and when did he know it," if Bush had been a Democrat.

So in the Sestak case, the White House suggested a candidate of the same party could be given a federal position instead of continuing his Senate primary campaigns, clearing the primary field for the White House's favored candidate. In the Nelson case, the White House suggested a sitting senator of the other party could be given a federal position that would have rendered him ineligible to continue his Senate re-election campaign, clearing the general election for the White House's favored candidate.

These cases appear to be substantively identical: In both cases, the White House was trying to improve the chances of their favored candidate to win election by removing an opponent from the field. Legal and political experts and historians have weighed in to say that there was nothing illegal about the Sestak offer; I have no reason to think they wouldn't say the same thing about the Nelson offer.

The difference, of course, has been the right wing's sustained freak-out over the Sestak offer, which was entirely absent when Rove made his reported offer to Nelson. Indeed, this is the sole mention of the reported offer on Fox News' airwaves between November 17, 2004, and January 1, 2005:

HANNITY: Let me move on, ask you about a political question. Ben Nelson. It's been floated he may get an opportunity to be agriculture secretary. It would be great for the state of Nebraska.

BOB KERREY (FORMER DEMOCRATIC SENATOR FROM NEBRASKA): It would be. Ben is a very good friend.

HANNITY: A Republican would appoint the next senator, though, so there's a political issue there.

KERREY: Yes, there's a political issue but it would be -- I mean, it would be terrific for Nebraska to have the secretary of agriculture, and there's a history of it.

Yup. That's Sean Hannity -- the guy that's been running around with his hair on fire over the Sestak offer for the past few weeks -- openly admitting the Nelson offer involves a "political question," and showing no concern whatsoever.

Posted In
Government, The Presidency & White House, The Senate
Karl Rove
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