As I explained in a column posted yesterday, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb's claim that the White House has threatened to close a Nebraska Air Force base if Sen. Ben Nelson doesn't support health care reform is more than a little far-fetched. In fact, it's pretty ridiculous -- even before you consider Goldfarb's history of fabrication.
But now things may be getting really interesting. Goldfarb, remember, claimed only one source, described simply as "a Senate aide." But I've just been forwarded an email that appears to show that a GOP operative was pushing the allegation the night before Goldfarb -- or, apparently, anyone else -- wrote publicly about it.
The From field of the email reads "email@example.com" -- that's apparently David Merritt, Vice President and Director of National Health Policy for The Gingrich Group (yes, that Gingrich.) Merritt wrote at 10:16 pm on Monday, December 14 (about 14 hours before Goldfarb's post):
[Nelson] is the only obstacle to 60. Word is he's been threatened for the last 10 days with losing Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha on next round of BRAC review (he's on Armed Services, but wouldn't be involved with appointing review committee...something like that). Sure sounds like Rahm, doesn't it?
The McCain angle doesn't end there. As a result of Goldfarb's story, 20 Republican Senators sent a letter requesting a Senate Armed Services Committee investigation. That letter was sent to committee chair Carl Levin and ... ranking member John McCain. But McCain doesn't appear to want to have anything to do with an investigation, according to Greg Sargent:
John McCain is staying mum on right wing calls for his Senate committe to probe claims that the White House has been privately threatening to close an Air Force base in Nebraska to force Ben Nelson into line on health care.
Turns out, though, that McCain, the relevant committee's ranking Republican, is laying very low on this story. McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan confirms to me that the Senator has no comment on the story or on whether he thinks the probe should move forward.
McCain's refusal to endorse the probe suggests that he doesn't place much stock in the charges and perhaps doesn't want to be publicly associated with them. But he may not want to say so publicly, in order to avoid alienating those on the right who have been pushing it with such fervor.
And Nelson? Nelson reportedly says an investigation would embarrass the Republicans:
Nelson told KLIN/Lincoln radio hosts Jack Mitchell and John Bishop that he knows who started the rumors and when it comes to light it will be "embarrassing for the other side of the aisle," presumably meaning a Republican senator or senators is behind it.