The attempt by the White House to get Rep. Joe Sestak to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary has emerged as an issue in Sestak’s general election bid against his GOP rival, former Rep. Pat Toomey.
"If this explanation is as innocent as it looks, I sure don’t know why it took three months to say so," Toomey told reporters on Friday, shortly after the White House released a memorandum by the White House legal counsel. "The White House and Congressman Sestak should have been forthcoming a lot sooner.” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was first asked in February about Sestak’s claim that he was offered an administration position to leave the race against Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter.
Rob Gleason, Pennsylvania’s Republican state chairman, made it clear that he and other Keystone State GOPers were not going to let the issue fade away. As Gleason said in a statement Friday: "For an ‘outsider’ candidate that promised openness and transparency, I am outraged that Joe Sestak has refused to come clean on this matter."
The White House finally addressed the issue by releasing its legal memo on Friday, saying that former President Bill Clinton suggested to Sestak that he could obtain a non-paying position on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in return for abandoning his primary challenge to Specter.
“I think the most important thing about the White House explanation is not the words in the statement,” former U.S. Attorney David Marston said in an interview with HUMAN EVENTS.
“It’s hardly surprising that given three months to sort it out, [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel would come up with some non-indictable explanation. But rather, the important fact is that you now have two Presidents involved. It is inconceivable that two Presidents would permit themselves to get sucked into this if it was only some hypothetical muddling about a no-pay Executive Branch job."
“So the White House explanation is a joke,” said Mardsen, who made headlines in 1977 when he was fired by the Carter Administration while investigating corruption in Democratic-controlled Philadelphia.
Because the service on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board is not a paying position and requires only part-time service, some legal scholars have concluded that Sestak was not being offered “something of value”—such as say, being secretary of the Navy—and thus U.S. criminal code was not violated.
Michael Mukasey, who was attorney general under George W. Bush, said that since he feels there is no violation of the criminal code, the matter is resolved and he no longer supports an independent counsel being named to look into the matter.
But this explanation raises new issues. As to how Emanuel, Clinton or anyone else could believe that offering a part-time, non-paying position to a congressman could somehow convince him to leave the Senate race left some eyebrows rolling in Washington. In addition, there is a constitutional question as to whether Sestak could have remained in Congress and served on a panel within the Executive Branch of government. In contrast to, say, the parliamentary system in Great Britain in which members of Parliament double as members of the prime minister’s Cabinet, members of Congress cannot simultaneously hold positions in the Executive Branch under the doctrine of separation of powers.
Despite the White House attempt to whitewash the matter, the Sestak affair not likely fade away anytime soon.
In all likelihood, Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.) will pursue a probe of the Sestak affair on the House Government Operations and Reform Committee on which he is ranking Republican. And no doubt there will still be questions about it to Gibbs at White House briefings. And based on the remarks of Toomey and Gleason, GOPers will do their utmost to keep it alive as an issue in the Senate race.
The “X-factor” is Arlen Specter, who probably never would have switched parties if he sensed the administration could not clear the Democratic field for him. Former Philadelphia District Attorney Specter “must be livid over all this,” said one source who has known the 80-year-old senator for four decades, and “could well start asking some questions of his own.” Before the White House made its announcement about the offer, a Rasmussen Poll showed Sestak leading Toomey among likely voters by a margin of 46% to 42% statewide.
A footnote: The administration that has insisted it will be the most “transparent” in history is going to have to watch its step in the political thicket. Even before Joe Sestak let it be known about the job offer in February, the Denver Post reported that Colorado House Speaker and U.S. Senate hopeful Andrew Romanoff said he was offered a position in the U.S. Agency for International Development if he would abandon his Democratic primary challenge to appointed Sen. Michael Bennet. The White House denied the allegation without hesitation, Romanoff said no more, and the Centennial State press appears to have let the issue die.