Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The news that the White House dangled more job offers to persuade yet another Democrat to abandon plans to challenge a Senate incumbent in a party primary raises disturbing new questions about potentially criminal political influence in the highest levels of the West Wing.

The bombshell came from former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff who is challenging Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in the Aug. 10 primary -- breaking months of stonewalling reports that the White House offered him some choice government jobs last fall if he dropped out of the race.

Rush Limbaugh

It is illegal (18 U.S.C. 600) to offer a federal position or appointment to anyone in exchange for any kind of political activity.

In a detailed statement released to the news media, Romanoff said he got a call last September from White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina who said the White House would back Bennet who was appointed to the open seat last year.

"Mr. Messina also suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race. He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions. At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina's assistance in obtaining one."

Nevertheless, in a detailed follow-up e-mail to Romanoff, Messina floated three specific government jobs that could be available to him if he ended his plan to run against Bennet:

Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America and Caribbean, for the U.S. Agency for International Development; Director, Office of Democracy and Governance at USAID; and Director, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which would put him in charge of a $55 million budget and a staff of 78 people.

Romanoff responded later that afternoon in a voicemail message to Messina "informing him that I would not change course. I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then."

The next day the White House endorsed Bennet and Romanoff entered the primary race in a bid to wrest the nomination away from Bennet who is widely seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate.

This is the second time within two weeks that it has been revealed that the White House offered government posts in a "buy-off" attempt to persuade Democrats to abandon party primary challenges.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.