News & Politics

Rove's off White House Payroll -- Will That Free Him to Play Even Dirtier Tricks?

Karl Rove's "leaving" the White House, but it's worth considering what he can do on the outside that he was hindered from doing on the government payroll.

The smart money says Rove is quitting ahead of one or more indictments, and here's hoping. There is, however, precedent for speculating that he's not really "leaving" at all.

The precedent, as is so often in this administration, is Nixonian. In the Nixon Library's newly released tape of the President's phone conversations shortly before, on, and after Election Day 1972, the longest is Nixon and Chuck Colson riffing out their second term plans -- most especially for a new "information and counterattack capacity in the White House" that would be more durable, and better deniable, than the one that got them in trouble with Watergate.

The idea is for Charles Colson to leave the White House with great fanfare, as if riding off into the sunset after a job well done. He will establish a law firm that will actually be a political front working for Nixon: "I wouldn't call it 'Colson,' something like that," Nixon says; "I would just say, "Washington Associates," or something..a good, high-sounding name." It would serve as a base the usual Nixonian work of manipulating and intimidating the media; and, intriguingly, a new idea, establishing a new polling firm, scrubbed of its origins in the White House: "I mean, the point is, let's just get the polling done our way."

Colson was also to work to establish, as another White House front, a think tank, perhaps having one of Nixon's most loyal donors, DeWitt Wallace of Reader's Digest buy out the American Enterprise Institute so they could take over its administrative capacity: "They're right at the verge of becoming what we want," Colson explains.

Meanwhile Colson's "replacement," a young staffer named Ken Clawson will be the inside man, coordinating Colson's new satellite office -- "a place for the nut-cutting." Clawson fit the bill admirably. He was an accomplished White House ratfucker and author of the "Canuck Letter," a fake letter sent to a New Hampshire newspaper accusing the Democratic frontrunner in early 1972 of using a racial slur.

As often on these tapes, what we have here is a mere tantalizing hint of wheels within wheels, some of whose operations ended up fully revealed, some of which did not. This one, as it happened, never got off the ground; Colson proved too busy trying, and failing, to stay out of jail (may history repeat itself!).

But here's the question with which I'd like to leave readers, especially the lawyers among you: What more can Karl Rove achieve for Bush and the Republican Party outside the White House than inside it?
Rick Perlstein blogs for Common Sense at the Campaign for America's Future.