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Threats, Reprisals and the Art of the Deal

Instead of an eye for an eye, it’s an aide for an aide.

With Republicans ramping up their messaging on a health care investigation and set to unveil information that might ensnare President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, Democrats say they’ll return fire by targeting Barry Jackson, a top aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), over his small role in two George W. Bush-era scandals.

“If Republicans want to go down this rabbit hole, they should expect to answer questions about Barry Jackson’s involvement in Bush-era scandals involving personal email. Their hands aren’t clean here,” a Democratic strategist told Roll Call.

Republicans say Messina might have violated the Presidential Records Act by using a personal email account to discuss official White House business.

The allegations about the records law stem from a larger investigation into deals the White House made to help pass the health care overhaul. Messina, who was White House deputy chief of staff before moving to the re-election campaign last year, played a key role in those negotiations.

House Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), extensively investigated the Bush administration’s use of Republican National Committee email accounts in possible violation of the Presidential Records Act when Waxman chaired the Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2007 to 2009.

That investigation and another probe, into the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, revealed several interactions between Jackson and lobbyists who worked for Abramoff’s firm.

In March 2003, Jackson emailed Abramoff associate Neil Volz from a “” email account, asking the name of an Abramoff client whom Volz had recommended for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The client, Choctaw Indian Chief Phillip Martin, was never given the award. Martin died in 2010.

A GOP House leadership staffer said the move reeked of desperation.

“This seems like a sure sign that the Obama campaign is terrified of the truth about the administration’s actions and Mr. Messina’s role. They simply can’t defend the backroom deals that led to Obamacare, and they’re rightly scared that more revelations are coming,” the source said.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a campaign-style Web video today that highlights promises by Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign that he would not strike backroom deals with industry groups to pass legislation.

The video is another means of setting the stage as Republicans prepare to unveil the results of their investigation into deals surrounding the 2010 health care law.

Featuring dramatic music in the background, the video presents Obama’s remarks from several 2008 speeches as on-screen text outlines a brief chronology of the health care deal.

In one of Obama’s speeches, he railed on Republicans for a deal they struck with the pharmaceutical industry on Medicare prescription drug benefit legislation, singling out former Rep. Billy Tauzin (La.), “who pushed the law through [and then] went to work for the pharmaceutical industry making $2 million a year. Imagine that.”

“I don’t want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game-playing,” Obama says.

Obama announced an agreement with the pharmaceutical industry in June 2009.

In the deal, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America agreed to $80 billion in revenue cuts for the drug sector over 10 years. PhRMA later pledged $150 million for advertising to support the health care law.

But the details of the deal — and others with industry players — were hazy, and some Democrats questioned whether they were bound by the terms.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) told Roll Call that Messina’s name was “the one that came up most consistently” in emails and other documents about the deals. Burgess is on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Republicans said privately that focusing on Messina’s role will be an unneeded irritant for the man tasked with re-electing Obama in November.

Democrats quickly pounced on the video as further evidence that the GOP is using the investigation as a thinly veiled political attack six months before the presidential election.

An administration spokesman seized on the private remarks about how the allegations will distract Messina to argue the investigation is a “nakedly political” attack.

“Republicans stunningly concede it’s not serious and instead a nakedly political, taxpayer-funded crusade to hurt the president’s re-election campaign. This is the same House committee that has spent, according to one report, over $1 million in taxpayer dollars for the past 15 months looking into baseless allegations on Solyndra — but has done almost nothing to move legislation that would create jobs or grow the economy,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

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