The Secret Nelson Rockefeller Most Feared the World Would Learn About Him

It looks like the filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination will end today. Personally, I don’t think it would be a tragedy if Hagel didn’t become defense secretary, since it would open the way for Michele Flournoy, who in addition to being a loyal Democrat and a woman is in many of the ways that matter more qualified. Still, Hagel is plenty qualified and it’s a disgrace that such a brave and honorable man has been put through the gauntlet of incoherent complaint and politicized posturing by members of his own party.

Writing about the Hagel nomination in the Washington Post this past weekend, former ambassador, GOP uber-lobbyist and confirmation prep expert Tom Korologos noted that in the entire 20th Century only three cabinet nominees were voted down, and only one of them, John Tower, was a secdef nominee (and his nomination wasn’t filibustered). There are lots of interesting historical bits in the piece. But not included is a great story that Korologos, who has helped over 300 nominees win confirmation, told at a lunch I attended last week put on by the National Hellenic Society that’s worth passing on.

In 1974, after Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president, Ford brought Nelson Rockerfeller into the Oval Office and offered to nominate him to be vice president. When Ford and everyone else was leaving the room, Korologos approached Rockefeller, explained that he had been chosen to shepherd his nomination through the Senate, and invited the governor to his office to start the grueling process of going through Rockefeller’s past. One of the first questions Rockefeller asked was whether his financial disclosure forms might be made public. This is Washington, Korologos told him, you can bet someone will leak them. The hearings ultimately revealed, among other things, that Rockefeller had failed to pay $1 million in taxes and financed a negative biography of a political rival. But that day, Rockefeller confessed to Korologos his biggest concern: that the disclosure would show that Rockefeller was worth “only” $600 million, far less than everyone assumed, and he would lose stature in the eyes of his billionaire buddies.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.