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What did the president know, and when did he know it?

We take a break from the hyperventilating over the latest moves in the slow-motion kabuki dance that is the Obama Administration’s efforts to ram its federal takeover of the health care system down the throats of the overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose the various bills to take a look at what should be a much, much bigger story.

Last week, Democratic Senate Candidate Joe Sestak, a retired Admiral, let slip in an interview that someone in the White House offered him a position in the Administration if he would drop his primary challenge of Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania.  Sestak wouldn’t elaborate on which job he was offered – speculation centers on Secretary of the Navy – but it hardly matters.  As Jeffrey Lord points out, federal law prohibits anyone from offering, soliciting, or receiving any federal office in exchange for a political favor.

“Whoever solicits or receives … any….thing of value, in consideration of the promise of support or use of influence in obtaining for any person any appointive office or place under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.” – 18 USC Sec. 211

It seems highly unlikely that this was a misunderstanding or exaggeration on Sestak’s part.  It’s the second time in this election season that another Democrat has accused the White House of trying to buy them out of a Senate challenge with an offer of employment.

Last year, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s deputy, Jim Messina, reportedly suggested that Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff might find himself a position in the Department of the Interior if he dropped his prospective primary challenge of Sen. Michael Bennett. Romanoff, like Sestak, refused to be bought off.

And remember that Vice President Joe Biden’s wife committed a gaffe before the inauguration when she bragged on Oprah that her husband was offered a choice of Secretary of State or Vice President by Obama. Combine all of this with the now legendary incompetence displayed by Obama’s vetting team and it’s clear that there is a pattern of playing fast and loose with appointments in the Administration.

The Sestak and Bennett incidents are potentially far worse than that. Republicans need to start asking very pointed, very public questions, right now. They should call for a Special Counsel to lead a Department of Justice investigation along the lines of Patrick Fitzgerald’s look at the Valerie Plame affair.  Even if no wrongdoing is uncovered, the atmospherics of this scandal in waiting are bad for the Obama White House. The president would have to explain why relativley low-level staffers in his Administration feel empowered to offer high-ranking positions as plums for doing the Administration’s bidding without consulting their superiors. Who is minding the store?

Of course, the indications are that this scandal is much worse than that, potentially implicating Emanuel, Axelrod, two Cabinet level officials, Biden, even Obama himself. Thus far, the mainstream press has yawned a collective whoop-dee-doo at the revelations. Republicans should force their hand, accept the gift Obama’s ham-handedness may have provide for them, and get the 2010 campaign season started with a good old fashioned Washington scandal.

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