Was Bush keeping quiet about Rehnquist?

By Eric Boehlert
Published October 26, 2004 8:55PM (EDT)

How long has President Bush known that Chief Justice William Rehnquist was suffering from thyroid cancer? Monday's medical announcement from Rehnquist, a Bush ally, seemed to catch most of official Washington off-guard. But close readers of the New York Times Sunday magazine might have picked up clues eight days ago in Ron Suskind's cover story about Bush. Nearly 7,000 words into that 8,000-word story Suskind reported on a private luncheon Bush hosted in mid-September for his top donors, during which time he spoke freely, and confidently, about the campaign. At one point Bush promised loyalists that soon after his inauguration he would have the opportunity to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court; just the first of what Bush insisted would be four during his second term.

As Suskind told Salon last week, "That certainly suggests to me a quid pro quo, that there's been at least a passing of communication, if you will, between someone on the Supreme Court and the White House that immediately after the president's swearing in he'll have his first of what he considers, as he said at the luncheon, the first of four spots that he's expected to [be able to name] in his second term."

In the light of Rehnquist's medical announcement, which several medical experts have suggested is quite serious, and could force the chief justice off the high court, that possible quid pro quo now seems more clear.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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