Misdemeanors — or Crimes?

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On this matter of offering federal jobs to potential candidates to induce them not to run against Senate Democratic incumbents, this White House is drifting dangerously close to the falls.

Colorado’s Andrew Romanoff has now confirmed that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina trolled three federal jobs in front of him, if he would desist and not run against incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet.

And Romanoff has produced an e-mail where Messina presents the three-job menu, one of which might be his, if he passed up the Senate run. Two were with the Agency for International Development. The third was director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

All three are juicy plums.

Romanoff and Messina both say no hard offer was made. And Robert Gibbs has assured the press the president had no idea Messina was talking to Romanoff about federal jobs that only Obama can fill.

But if Obama knew nothing of the Messina-Romanoff talks, who did? For Messina cannot appoint anyone to anything. Has Messina’s boss, Rahm Emanuel, been given the franchise to offer a dessert tray of federal jobs to people he wants to keep out of Democratic primaries?

An independent investigation needs to be conducted to determine whether Chicago-style politics has been introduced into the West Wing.

For in the week since White House Counsel Robert Bauer issued his two-page report on his investigation into whether Rep. Joe Sestak was offered a job to stay out of the Pennsylvania Senate primary, that report has become scarcely credible.

Consider. Repeatedly, Sestak said he had been offered a job if he would not run. The job was widely thought to be secretary of the navy. If true, Sestak was charging someone high at the White House with having committed a felony: offering a federal job to influence the outcome of a federal election.

What made the issue combustible was that only Obama can appoint the navy secretary. Though no one suggested Obama made the offer, the White House denied any offer had been made.

When Sestak won the primary, the media began to press. Sestak stonewalled, repeating only he was offered a job and turned it down.

Came then the report of Bauer, which purported to clear up the conflicting statements.

What had happened, we were told, was that President Clinton, at the behest of Rahm, called Sestak to urge him not to run against Arlen Specter, but to stay in the House, adding that Joe might serve on the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Sestak hastily confirmed that this was the “job” he had been offered — in a one-minute exchange in a single conservation with Clinton.

No one else, says Sestak, contacted him with any offer any time.

Bauer’s report appeared to put the matter to rest. For PFIAB is a non-paying advisory board. Thus, Sestak had not really been offered a job, and even the seat on the PFIAB board had been but a suggestion by Clinton.

The story has now begun to crumble.

First, a seat on the prestigious PFIAB, with access to the nation’s secrets and a valid claim to be an adviser to the president, is certainly a thing of value. For the White House to offer it to get Sestak not to run would appear a clear violation of the anti-bribery statute.

Second, as columnist Byron York reports, members of Congress are not permitted to sit on presidential boards. Clinton was suggesting that Sestak take a slot on PFIAB, which Joe could not take as long as he stayed in Congress, which Clinton was urging him to do.

Is it possible Rahm and Clinton did not know of this prohibition?

Another problem has arisen with the Bauer report. Sestak insists the one-minute chat with Clinton was it. Not before, not during the Clinton call, not after, did anyone from the White House talk to him about not running.

But the report says “efforts” were made to determine if Sestak would be interested in serving on a presidential board “in June and July of 2009.”

This suggests multiple White House contacts with Sestak.

Who else talked to Joe? Another emissary like Clinton? What arguments did they use to persuade Sestak not to run, if they did not offer him something? For Joe was deeply angered at having been passed over by the White House in his planned run for a Senate seat in favor of a GOP reject like Arlen Specter.

The White House claims Obama knew nothing about any of this.

But is it credible that White House Chief of Staff Rahm colluded with ex-President Clinton to get Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Senate race and the president of the United States was left in the dark?

Not to be a cynic, but the Rahm-Clinton-Sestak-PFIAB story rings of a concoction upon which all agreed — to get the White House off the sticky wicket onto which Joe’s earlier honesty had placed the West Wing.

This thing could metastasize, big-time.

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