Reid Wilson at Hotline:
The GOP is pleased Rep. Joe Sestak (D) won a competitive primary, and not just for the revenge factor: An off-hand comment Sestak made in Feb. is giving GOPers the chance to accuse the WH of attempting to twist arms and play politics.
In an interview with a local radio station during his primary race, Sestak said he had been offered a job by the WH if he were to drop out of the race. Sestak has refused to elaborate on the claim, even though Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) made it an issue in their primary.
“I was offered a job, and I answered that,” Sestak said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “Anything that goes beyond that is for others to talk about.”
GOPers have used the issue to raise questions about the WH’s honesty, transparency and ethics.
“What did the president offer and when did he offer it? It seems like a very straightforward answer to me,” RNC chair Michael Steele said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Is it proper, ethical and legal for the White House to try to get a sitting member of Congress out of a race because they have other plans? I don’t know. The White House has to answer the question.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the top GOPer on the House Oversight and Government Reform panel, has pressed the admin for answers as well. Sestak has “alleged what amounts to 3 felonies,” Issa told AG Eric Holder at a May 13 hearing. Issa’s press shop has hammered the WH on the issue, going so far as to call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to probe the matter.
Though a WH source initially denied the job offer to the Philadelphia Inquirer, WH spokesman Robert Gibbs has since refused to confirm or deny Sestak’s claims. On Sunday, Gibbs appeared to suggest for the first time that a job offer had been extended.
“I’m not a lawyer. But lawyers in the White House and others have looked into conversations that were had with Congressman Sestak. And nothing inappropriate happened,” Gibbs said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Pressed as to whether the WH offered Sestak a job, Gibbs would only add: “I’m not going to get further into what the conversations were.”
The stonewalling has gone to incredible lengths. On Thursday, Gibbs parried with reporters 13 times, refusing to address Sestak’s claims, referring to previous comments he made in March. The refusal to talk about Sestak at all has given GOPers an opening.
“This is about both the White House and Sestak. That the White House has repeatedly refused to answer questions on this demonstrates that not only do we not have the openness and transparency Obama promised, but also that the ‘change’ Obama promised is in fact the same old politics he decried,” RNC spokesman Doug Heye said in an email. “This is a very serious allegation and the White House has done nothing but stonewall.”
For the GOP, the disparate lines present a win-win scenario. If the WH did offer Sestak a job, they have an angle of attack that can play out in the nation’s editorial pages, which could express indignation that Obama isn’t only failing to deliver, he is participating in the system he promised to change. If Sestak isn’t telling the truth — an unlikely scenario, given Gibbs’ comments on Sunday — his own credibility is undermined as he faces a tough general election opponent.
Chris Good at The Atlantic
Daniel Foster at The Corner:
Even Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.), whose usual pastime is foul-mouthed conservative-baiting, is now calling on the White House to spill the beans about conversations it is believed to have had with Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) as part of an effort to convince him to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary
Seems to me that Rod Blagojevich can ask with some reason why his conversations about President Obama’s Senate seat merit his prosecution but those with unnamed officials and Joe Sestak don’t even get follow-up questions on Meet the Press.
Even Anthony Weiner sees the cover-up here. Reporters shouldn’t let Sestak drone on with his talking points as long as he is covering up details of what could be a crime.
UPDATE: An email from an Assistant United States Attorney:
If two more people discussed offering him a job in exchange for dropping out, and one of those people then had a conversation with him about that, whether he was ever offered the job is IRRELEVANT. It’s an inchoate offense.
Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:
Maybe one of my fellow Cornerites can explain to me why, exactly, it’s a scandal (or would be) if it’s proven that the White House offered Joe Sestak a job to abandon his race against Specter.
Update: Ah, well, these are the perils of blogging after a long day. I meant to save this post and finish it later, not publish it publicly. Anyway, I understand that the alleged offer was (almost certainly) against the law (as many readers eagerly informed me), but what’s scandalous about it? I mean, offering jobs to inconvenient politicians is what presidents do.
David Freddoso at The Examiner:
Some people wonder why Sestak’s allegations matter. After all, isn’t this what all presidents do, cut deals with taxpayer-funded jobs in order to defuse intra-party rivalries? The answer is, maybe they do, but it’s still illegal. Such deals are not usually discussed in public, but this one has been and now its potential illegality matters.
The relevant statutes:
18 USC 600:
Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party in connection with any general or special election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
18 USC 595 (I include part in boldface to spare the reader all of the law’s fine points):
Whoever, being a person employed in any administrative position by the United States, or by any department or agency thereof, or by the District of Columbia or any agency or instrumentality thereof, or by any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States, or any political subdivision, municipality, or agency thereof, or agency of such political subdivision or municipality (including any corporation owned or controlled by any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States or by any such political subdivision, municipality, or agency), in connection with any activity which is financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States, or any department or agency thereof, uses his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
Jonah Goldberg asks why, even if it is illegal, this is such a scandal. Don’t presidents do this all the time? It’s a legitimate question. I would answer it first by pointing again to the fact that such deals are not often made public. Sestak has only himself to blame for trying to exploit the offer to increase his own support while he was running against Specter.
Second, I would refer back to the Plame controversy, during which liberals salivated over the opportunity to see Karl Rove frog-marched off the White House grounds in handcuffs. Do you think it would be a scandal if they frog-marched someone off the White House grounds?
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the offices of Joe Sestak and the White House spin shop right now…
UPDATE: John Dickerson at Slate
Caleb Howe at Redstate
Jonathan Chait at TNR
Jon Ward at Daily Caller
John McCormack at The Weekly Standard
UPDATE #2: Allah Pundit
UPDATE #3: Andrew Malcolm at The LA Times
UPDATE #4: Norm Ornstein at American Enterprise Institute
UPDATE #5: Ana Marie Cox and Rich Lowry at Bloggingheads