Republicans have been launching a full-court press to trumpet the claim by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) that the White House offered him a job in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate, in an effort to clear the field for its favored candidate, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). One GOP lawmaker has called for a criminal probe, alleging possible illegal conduct. But several experts tell TPMmuckraker this is much ado about nothing.
Last month, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) urged the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to look into Sestak’s claim, which Issa says amounts to an accusation of a bribe. The White House has said that nothing inappropriate happened. And on Friday, reports Politico, DOJ responded by denying the request.
That hasn’t stopped the GOP’s bid to make hay out of the claim. Issa isn’t letting the issue drop, huffing that “the attorney general’s refusal to take action in the face of such felonious allegations undermines any claim to transparency and integrity that this administration asserts.” And Fox News and the rest of the conservative media have been giving it prominent play. Karl Rove — who knows a thing or two about politicized hiring — suggested today that there had been a “criminal coverup.”
And even the Washington Post has slammed the White House for a “lack of sunlight” on the issue.
That may be fair as far as it goes — the White House certainly hasn’t been falling all over itself to be up front about what happened. But the experts seem to agree that there’s no legal wrongdoing — and very little scandal here.
“People horse trade politically all the time,” Stan Brand, a prominent Washington criminal defense lawyer told TPMmuckraker. “So I don’t put much stock in this, and I don’t think its gonna go anywhere.”
Even those who used to prosecute public corruption cases agree. “Talk about criminalizing the political process!” said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity unit. “It would be horrible precedent if what really truly is political horsetrading were viewed in the criminal context of: is this a corrupt bribe?”
And Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who as the head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington isn’t known for going on easy public corruption, concurred. “There is no bribery case here,” she said. “No statute has ever been used to prosecute anybody for bribery in circumstances like this.”
Sloan added that Issa’s move was more about politics. “It’s not at all about whether there was actual criminal wrongdoing,” she said. “It’s about how to go after Sestak.”
Sestak first made his claim in an interview last month with a Pennsylvania TV station. He did not specify what the job was, and added that he rejected the offer immediately. Sestak last week defeated Specter to win the Democratic nomination.