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Saxby Chambliss 

For lacking the decency to admit when he's caught red-handed

Saxby Chambliss' latest attempt to make himself lifetime Scalawag involves what seems to be a naked attempt to wrangle an ambassadorship for a deep-pocketed supporter. In fact, forget "seems" -- that's exactly what he was trying to do, as reported recently in a New York Times Magazine profile on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

The article relates a telephone conversation in which Chambliss asks Frist for a favor. A friend who helped "raise a chunk of money" to get the Georgia Republican elected to the Senate now had his sights set on what the article describes as "an ambassadorship to an overseas economic development organization." Could Frist please help this GOP donor get the job he wanted?

Although Chambliss was not named in the article, the Washington press corps had little trouble figuring out who it was on the other end of the line with Frist.

The junior senator verified that he'd been quoted accurately -- which was wise, considering that he'd been taped while on speaker phone. But instead of owning up to what was an obvious quid-pro-quo maneuver, Chambliss sent up a smokescreen of disingenuous and even contradictory claptrap.

Asked about the incident on "Meet the Press," he first tried to change the subject by complaining that Frist should have told him he was on speaker phone -- a little like a bank robber whining that surveillance cameras invaded his privacy.

Then Chambliss said the would-be ambassador "just happens to be a donor." Wow, what a coincidence. And yet, he later told Roll Call magazine that maybe donations should be taken into account when handing out ambassadorships. Even so, he joked, the quid-pro-quo system apparently "doesn't work" because the donor didn't get the job.

Apart from the money, however, "the guy's qualified" for the post, Chambliss said on "Meet the Press." But how would he know? As he told Frist about the ambassadorship in their original conversation: "I don't even know what the hell it is, but he wants it."

Just for the record, influence peddling may happen with alarming frequency, but it's still illegal.

The Weekly Scalawag is now accepting nominations. E-mail scott.henry@creativeloafing.com.

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