He could blame his investment firm's failures on the economy. His wife's DWI could be covered up by media pals. But the Obama Administration's auto-bailout adviser can't hide a bribery investigation.

Steven Rattner, the former New York Times reporter and Quadrangle Group co-founder, is believed by federal investigators to have directed Quadrangle to pay more than $1 million in kickbacks to obtain business from the New York State pension, the Times and Wall Street Journal are reporting.

The Times didn't mention Rattner's connection to the paper in its front-page story, even though it did tout the connection in February, when Rattner was appointed bailout adviser.

Perhaps the paper is a bit embarrassed at how tawdry the whole scheme sounds: Rattner's firm, through an affiliate, paid $90,000 to the brother of the state's deputy controller for rights to his low-budget film "Chooch," according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents. It then got a $100 million investment from the state pension fund and subsequently paid an additional $1.1 million to a political consultant.

The Treasury Department said Rattner notified it about the investigation "during the transition." How much did Rattner tell the administration? It's hard to fathom why the president would want a public-funds-disbursement adviser who is under investigation for improperly obtaining the disbursement of public funds.

But Rattner can be convincing when he wants to be. He was behind a campaign to raise $1 million for Barack Obama after betting twice on the wrong horse, i.e., Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

And the media-mogul-friendly financier seems to have contained the damage from the present scandal as well as one might reasonably expect. Both the Times and the Journal attributed their stories to a single, anonymous source — and both are careful to note there is no hint of criminal charges against Rattner.

(Picture via Esther Dyson)