By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Joe Sestak, the former U.S. Navy admiral and member of Congress who bested party-switching Arlen Specter in last week’s Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, may have torpedoed his candidacy with his own big mouth.
Some months ago, as he was beginning his Senate campaign, Sestak let it slip that someone in the White House might have offered him a job in exchange for dropping out of the primary against Specter, whose bid for a sixth term had the backing of President Barack Obama. And then tried to avoid talking about it ever again. The problem, as Sestak no doubt now realizes, is that to offer a specific position or reward in exchange for a specific act is, as many people read the law, illegal.
It is one thing to say, for example, that if an elected official agrees to run for some higher office and is unsuccessful that a job might be found for them in the administration. It is quite another to promise a particular job--say Secretary of the Navy--in exchange for dropping out of a primary campaign. The latter is an example of a quid pro quo, which most people understand to be a significant threshold needing to be crossed on the way to proving an illegal act has taken place.
No one has yet offered conclusive proof that a specific offer was made. But a lot of people are asking questions, questions to which only Sestak and the White House have the answers.
On Wednesday all seven Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked United States Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate the whole business.
The seven, as ABC News' Jake Tapper blogs, Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma contend that the alleged offer appears to violate federal criminal laws, including 18 U.S.C. 600, which prohibits promising a government position “as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity” or “in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office.”
Holder should order such an investigation. Moreover, Congress should take up the matter and conduct its own inquiry.
It was not so long ago that the Democrats in Congress insisted on conducting a highly publicized investigation into President George W. Bush’s decision to dismiss something less than a handful of U.S. attorneys from their positions--despite the fact that the president was fully within his rights to do so and was in no way required under the law to provide an explanation for his action.
If it is within the jurisdiction of the Congress to look into the firing of the U.S. attorneys it certainly rises to at least that same level to ask the White House to explain who made the offer to Sestak and precisely what the offer was. Or Sestak could just, on his own, come clean about the whole matter.
In the absence of either of those things coming to pass the voters in Pennsylvania should probably just tell Sestak to “shove off” come November.