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11.02.10

Payback Time!

Let the subpoenas begin. Expect a wave of investigations targeting the Obama White House. Benjamin Sarlin looks at the likely probes, from the BP spill to the Sestak deal.

One of the biggest consequences of the 1994 Republican Revolution was the wave of investigations the new GOP majority carried out against the White House, culminating in President Clinton's impeachment. Now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, many Democrats and progressive commentators are concerned the same fate will befall President Obama, given the intensity of conservative loathing for his administration. Here are five areas where investigations are likely.

1. The Joe Sestak Deal

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Republicans made a huge fuss out of Pennsylvania's Senate candidate Joe Sestak's claim that he was offered a White House position if he didn't run against Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. Darrell Issa, who will likely chair the House Oversight Committee, said it could be " Obama's Watergate." Legal experts see the possible deal as politics as usual, especially given that there was no monetary value to the advisory position offered Sestak and by definition he couldn't have held the post if he were in the Senate. It's fairly common practice for party leaders to try to clear the field for favored candidates, and Obama appointed his No. 1 potential rival in the Democratic Party to be secretary of state—is that illegal? Nonetheless, expect constant calls for investigations into the matter, as well as a similar situation in Colorado's Senate race.

2. New Black Panther Party

It's been two years, and conservative outrage over the handling of a voter intimidation case involving two members of the New Black Panther Party has only gathered more steam. Conservatives say the decision to prosecute only one of two men at a polling station in Philadelphia shows the Justice Department favors minorities. The dispute is partly a continuation of the controversy surrounding the Bush administration's problematic Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department, which was accused of straying from its original goal of protecting minority voters from discrimination in favor of focusing on reverse racism cases instead.

3. The BP Spill

Issa, for his part, has put out a detailed list of the top priorities he believes Democrats have stifled. At the top is the federal response to the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster and the subsequent oil spill. At the time, Issa accused the White House of putting image over policy in its response, hammering the administration for dispatching a political aide to the scene. A larger investigation would reopen a wound for the White House, which fought off constant criticism during the episode.

4. The Czars

Another longtime favorite line of attack from conservatives that could see new life under a GOP majority. Although it's been common practice for every modern president, Republicans have raised new concerns about the White House's use of advisers, popularly dubbed as "czars" in the press, who don't have to go through Senate confirmation. The House's youngest member, Aaron Schock, a Republican member of the oversight committee, told The Daily Beast at a recent event that the issue was a top priority. Subcommittee chairs are also already licking their chops at a chance to bring Obama aides in for a grilling on their role.

5. The Inspector General

Dubbed " Obama's first scandal" in The Daily Beast, the removal of the inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Gerald Walpin, led to conservatives cries of a political cover-up. The story largely fizzled as the White House answered questions on the handling of the matter from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to his satisfaction, presenting evidence that Walpin had become erratic. But Republicans have tried to make the case that there's more to the story, and Issa has it listed as a hot topic for his committee.

Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.