Political Hay

Jobsgate: The Corruption of Congressman Joe Sestak

Ex-Admiral trades Honor Concept for Code of Omertà: Issa and special prosecutor.

By 4.6.10

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"Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They stand for that which is right. They tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known. They do not lie."
-- Honor Concept of the United States Naval Academy

"If I betray this oath of omertà may I burn in hell…."
-- Michael "Mickey Scars" Di Leonardo, Gambino crime family capo

"This is not a club -- this is a secret society. There is one way into this society: the way you come in today. And one way out: on a slab."
-- Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, Gambino crime family hitman to Mikey Scars

You know, this is sad.

Here is an individual, a graduate of the Naval Academy and, at this moment, a retired Admiral of the United States Navy, a sitting United States Congressman and a candidate for the United States Senate.

For reasons that amount to nothing other than his political inconvenience to the Obama White House, he finds himself on the receiving end of a jobs-for-favor transaction. Which is to say, a federal crime. 

Asked by a journalist if the report of this is true, the Naval Academy graduate-turned-Admiral-turned-Congressman and aspiring Senator says: Yes. It is true.

So far, so good.

Then, not so good. In fact, very not so good.

Next asked who in the White House did this thing -- Congressman Joe Sestak, the Pennsylvania Democrat challenging Senator Arlen Specter in the May primary -- suddenly clams up. He stonewalls. Silent, adamantly so, he will say nothing more beyond the fact that he was offered a job by someone in the White House, something that multiples of highly qualified and knowledgeable people have now suggested to be quite possibly a federal crime.

Focus again on that second line from the "Honor Concept" as presented by the US Naval Academy on its website. Of its cadets -- the future officers of the Navy -- it insists that:

"They tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known. They do not lie."

What can Congressman Joe Sestak possibly be thinking?

Again, the line. 

"They tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known. They do not lie."

A line the Naval Academy specifically includes in its "Honor Concept."

A line drilled into its graduates from the moment of their arrival in Annapolis. Annapolis, the place of honor where a young Joe Sestak was educated at taxpayer expense, where he and his classmates learned, according to the Academy itself, that:

The Naval Academy has a deep and abiding commitment to the moral development of its midshipmen and to instilling the Naval service core values of HONOR, COURAGE, and COMMITMENT. The goal of the officer development division is to integrate the moral, ethical, and character development of midshipmen across every aspect of the Naval Academy experience. The integrated officer development program is the single most important feature that distinguishes the Naval Academy from other educational institutions and officer commissioning sources.

Those three words capitalized in that paragraph? The Navy capitalized them in this fashion, to make their point crystal clear. That's not all they emphasize at Annapolis. A clear and vital part of the Annapolis education Joe Sestak received, says the Academy, is described this way:

MORAL EDUCATION

Moral and ethical development is a fundamental element of all aspects of the Naval Academy experience. As future officers in the Navy or Marine Corps, midshipmen will someday be responsible for the priceless lives of many men and women and multi-million dollar equipment. From Plebe Summer through graduation, the Naval Academy's Officer Development Program is a four-year integrated continuum that focuses on the attributes of integrity, honor, and mutual respect. One of the goals of this program is to develop midshipmen who possess a clearer sense of their own moral beliefs and the ability to articulate them. Honor is emphasized through the Honor Concept of the Brigade of Midshipmen. These Naval Academy "words to live by" are based on the moral values of respect for human dignity, respect for honesty and respect for the property of others. Brigade Honor Committees composed of elected upper-class midshipmen are responsible for the education and training of the Honor Concept. Midshipmen found in violation of the Honor Concept by their peers may be separated from the Naval Academy.

Now.

Congressman Sestak tells the Pennsylvania electorate on his website that he graduated second in his class at Annapolis, then embarked on "a distinguished 31-year career in the United States Navy…attained the rank of 3-star Admiral and served in the White House, Pentagon, and in operational commands at sea."

Think of that. Thirty-one years in the United States Navy. A distinguished career. Attained the rank of 3-star Admiral. Service in the White House, the Pentagon and operational commands at sea.

And every single one of those achievements were made possible because it was believed that young Joe Sestak, the guy who graduated second in his class, understood in his bones:

The line. The line. The line. 

Midshipmen "…tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known."

At this moment, now a sitting United States Congressman, a former Admiral, a graduate of Annapolis who was second in his class is deliberately, willfully and repeatedly violating the Academy's honor concept.

Ensuring that the full truth is known? Not Joe Sestak. Not when asked by one reporter after another after another, from the very first -- Comcast's Larry Kane -- to the very latest, Fox's Brett Baier and Neil Cavuto.

Instead, Congressman Sestak has abandoned the Navy's Honor Concept for another code altogether, a code familiar to fans of novelist Mario Puzo's series of stories beginning with The Godfather: the Code of Omerta.

The Code of Silence. Or, as specifically described by Michael "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo, a real-life Gambino crime family member and chum of the late real-life Godfather John Gotti: "If I betray this oath of omertà may I burn in hell…."

You have to wonder, what in the world possesses someone like Joe Sestak to act in such a fashion? Why, why would someone who advertises his candidacy for the United States Senate by pointing to a " distinguished 31-year career" in the Navy, someone who proudly points out that he graduated second in his class from the Naval Academy, why would someone like this ever – ever -- deliberately put himself in a position of so nakedly violating the Academy's "Honor Concept"? Why would someone who carried the rank of Admiral in the United States Navy -- a title bestowed on (among others on a rarefied list) Academy graduates with names like Alan Shepard, the first American in space, Hyman Rickover, the father of the Navy's nuclear submarine program, the Spanish-American War's George Dewey, World War II heroes Chester Nimitz, William "Bull" Halsey, and the father and grandfather namesakes of John McCain -- why would someone of this stature even consider acting in this fashion?

Quite aside from the information first provided in this space that a job offer of the kind Sestak has revealed is potentially a federal crime, a point Senator Specter himself quickly picked up, others are speaking up inside Pennsylvania:

* In Sestak's own congressional district and increasing number of papers around the state some version of this troubling "honor concept" question is now being asked. To Sestak's storyline that he at least initially told the truth even if he won't say more on the subject, Delaware County Times columnist Gil Spencer says: "Well good for him. But since then, he's been asked a lot of questions about that answer, and he has REFUSED to answer any of them…. If such an offer was made, Sestak should tell us who made it, when and where."

* On March 28, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorialized about "Bribing Sestak" calling for a special prosecutor.

* On the Saturday of Easter weekend, the Allentown Morning Call voiced its unsettled reaction (hat tip to Ben Barrack) pointing out the increasingly obvious: the issue is not going away before the May 18 primary against Specter.

* Yesterday, as if shopping for ways to destroy his own credibility, Sestak told an Associated Press reporter in an article appearing in the Harrisburg Patriot-News he should be elected to the U.S. Senate because he believes "politics has prevailed too often." The reporter felt compelled to tell readers that Sestak had "raised eyebrows" with his stance on the jobs-for-favor issue.

No kidding?

This issue won't go away after the primary either, no matter whether Sestak wins or loses. Why?

In short, whether in or out of his district Sestak is being asked to live up to the Honor Concept of the Naval Academy. An ideal he was supposed to have gotten into his bones when he was being taught what the Academy itself says are a Naval officer's core values.

So, then, why? Why is Sestak refusing to "tell the truth and ensure that the full truth is known"?

The late Mario Puzo became a rich and famous writer with memorable tales of the corruption of power and morality in America, most famously with The Godfather, the best-selling novel that was turned into the now classic-Oscar winning film starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.

In the first pages of the book The Godfather, Don Vito Corleone (the Godfather), is listening to the sympathetic tale of the baker Nazorine. It seems the baker's daughter had fallen for Enzo, "a fine Italian lad" captured during the war and sent to the United States as a prisoner of war. (Perhaps if Enzo had gotten himself captured during the Obama era he would have been provided a lawyer but, alas, this was World War II and nobody was thinking captured soldiers needed lawyers.) Now, war over, the United States government was getting ready to ship Enzo back to Sicily. In the name of love, the baker asks, could not The Godfather do something?

But of course, he could -- and did. Don Corleone explained how it would work: "The Congressman of the district must be petitioned. The Congressman would propose a special bill that would allow Enzo to become a citizen. The bill would surely pass Congress." But…well…it would cost $2,000. The going price. 

Wrote Puzo: "The baker nodded his head vigorously. He did not expect such a great favor for nothing. This was understood. A special Act of Congress does not come cheap…."

Afterwards, the baker gratefully and tearfully departed, The Godfather's consigliore Tom Hagen inquires: Which congressman should get the money to do this favor? The Godfather had several congressmen on his payroll. Who gets this job? 

Puzo wrote it this way:

Don Corleone frowned in thought. "Not to our paisan. Give it to the Jew in the next district. …I think there might be many such cases now the war is over; we should have extra people in Washington that can handle the overflow and not raise the price." Hagen made a note on his pad. "Not Congressman Luteco. Try Fischer."

Puzo's point, of course, was that one congressman was as corrupt as the next. It mattered only in terms of convenience to The Godfather which congressman did the dirty deed.

Alas, some version of this sentiment is what is operating in all these polls that show the American people giving Congress a favorability rating somewhere between pimps and terrorists. A Rasmussen poll informs that a full 41% of the American people "think most members of Congress are corrupt." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has an 11% approval rating -- 11%!

The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll gives Congress a favorability rating of just 17%.

All of which is to say Americans have come to believe in their gut what Mario Puzo portrayed as standard knowledge for the Godfather: that members of Congress are, in one fashion or another, corrupt. Wanting and holding these jobs for reasons other than public service. For some it's money, for some it's power or even sex. Only days ago Americans watched the saga of Democratic Congressman Eric "The Tickler" Massa unfold, departing in a screwy huff over allegations he had harassed male staff members, something Massa maintained to the end he did not do.

And at this very minute, Congressman Joe Sestak is busy throwing his share of logs on this bonfire.

What did the Congressman know and when did he know it? Sorry, it's none of your business.

His answer is straight out of a later Puzo novel -- Omertà -- disturbingly turning Sestak's preferred image as a straight-arrow Naval Academy graduate who embodies the Honor Concept into a considerably different image altogether: a congressman who lives by Omertà -- the Sicilian code of silence.

And this guy wants Pennsylvania voters to reward him with a seat in the United States Senate? If he can't tell the truth now, why in the world should voters expect him to tell them the truth about anything else if gifted with a six-year term?

Here's a guy whose stock-in-trade is that he's the straight-arrow military man. The man who will look you straight in the eye and tell you the unvarnished truth as he sees it. The man who supposedly learned something about what it means to be a role model in military and public service.

This character trait causes him to answer part one of a two-part question from Larry Kane with by-the-book Naval Academy Honor Concept forthrightness.

"Is it true that you were offered a high ranking job in the administration in a bid to get you to drop out of the primary against Arlen Specter?"

"Yes."

And then…like a character from The Godfather, Joe Sestak abruptly…shuts up.

 Ever after, Sestak's responses to requests for names of just who in the White House did this are some variation of what he also tells Kane: "I can't comment on that."

Suddenly Congressman Sestak morphs into Puzo's Congressman Luteco… or is it Congressman Fischer? Is he the "paisan"… or "the Jew"? In truth, it doesn't matter. Because Puzo's real point was that nothing mattered when it came to corrupting congressmen. Not their ethnic background. Not their religion. Not their party, their age, their military service or, had the fact been more prevalent in the late forties, their race or gender. Nothing mattered, because at some point every member of Congress has a price at which they could be corrupted.

And the price for Congressman Sestak is the apparent knowledge that if he follows the Naval Academy's Honor Concept he will in fact cause an even bigger scandal for his president -- and for himself -- than the one he's already mentioned. At stake is not just his shot at being a United States Senator from Pennsylvania. It's something much more: His membership in the political class's version of what Gambino crime capo Sammy"The Bull" Gravano described this way:

"This is not a club -- this is a secret society. There is one way into this society: the way you come in today. And one way out: on a slab."

So rather than be true to the Honor Concept he learned at the Academy, Sestak's answer is….omertà. Silence. Whatever happens to his Senate bid, Sestak clearly believes that if he follows the Navy Honor Concept he will be a marked man politically. It's one thing to challenge an incumbent senator. It's something very different to potentially find yourself at the center of a political scandal called Jobsgate that could bring down one or more powerful and well-connected members of the Obama White House.

In the "secret society" that is the Obama White House, somebody is so terrifying to both Congressman Sestak and Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff (who, according to the Denver Post, received a similar offer as Sestak did for the same reason) that both men prefer silence to telling the truth. 

What vision are they carrying around in their heads of the consequences if they speak the truth?

A Rahm Emanuel tirade matching Robert De Niro as Al Capone in The Untouchables? Substituting Sestak or Romanoff's names for Eliot Ness, as in this memorable piece of dialogue illustrating the mindset of mob life in Chicago?

"I want you to get this f... where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Eliot Ness, I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!"

Or this vivid scene from the same film, famously featuring a black-tied De Niro as he menacingly circles a table of his mob boys, baseball bat in hand, saying:

"A man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms, enthusiasms.… What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy? Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team. Teamwork…. Looks, throws, catches, hustles. Part of one big team. Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on. If his team don't field… what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But… I get nowhere unless the team wins."

And as his boys roar out "Team!" – De Niro as Capone smashes a mobster to death with his baseball bat -- because the guy squealed to the feds.

De Niro as Al Capone is transformed here into -- who? White House chief of staff Rahm "Deadfish" Emanuel (as Sean Hannity calls him)? Emanuel's deputy, Jim "The Fixer" Messina (as the Denver Post described the latter). Someone else?

Read carefully the response of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs from March 16 after stonewalling on this issue for almost a full month of refusing to answer questions at the daily White House briefing:

"I have talked to several people in the White House. I've talked to people that have talked to others in the White House. I'm told that whatever conversations have been had are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that -- that is, whatever happened is in the past, and he's focused on his primary election."

This is the Obama White House equivalent of some version of the same answer as presented by the Nixon White House during two years of Watergate inquires from the press. Nixon White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler talked to Nixon White House Counsel John Dean who talked to Nixon White House Assistant to the President John Ehrlichman who talked to Nixon White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman -- and presto!

In Gibbs' words, the same reaction: "I have talked to several people in the White House. I've talked to people that have talked to others in the White House. I'm told that whatever conversations have been had are not problematic…"

Isn't that amazing how that works? Just ask Ron who asks Dean who asks Ehrlichman who asks Haldeman. No problem. Got that? Just ask Gibbs who asks -- who? Rahmbo "Deadfish"? Jim "The Fixer"? White House Counsel Mr. Anita Dunn?

The only difference between the secret society that is the Mafia and the "secret society" that is causing Sestak to silence himself is that what will be carried out on a slab is not Sestak but Sestak's career. A career that will almost instantly be smashed with a political baseball bat by the inhabitants of the Obama White House -- repeatedly. Long after there is no Obama White House. Smashed forever by the political batboys and girls in the Obama-loving old media, or MSNBC, or at Media Matters or the Daily Kos or the Huffington Post. Or who knows who, where or when. Message to Sestak and Romanoff? If a scintilla of serious political damage is done to the Obama White House by anything you say or do, you are toast. Forever. In Puzo's memorable imagery, "you talk your brains out" -- your career will sleep with the fishes.

John Dean, lionized as he was at the time in the media for pulling down the Nixon White House, never served a day afterwards in public life. It is a fate that Sestak is clearly determined not to suffer.

Why? Because Joe Sestak would apparently rather lose his honor than give up his chance at political power, whether that power is a seat in the U.S. Senate now or some future elected or appointed political office.

Telling the truth is just too big a price to pay. Because Joe Sestak apparently knows too much.

Meanwhile?

Congressman Darrell Issa gave the Obama White House until April 5 -- that would be yesterday -- to respond to his request for information on what the Obama White House knew and when they knew it.

If no response is received? Says an Issa spokesman: An official request from Congressman Issa will go to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor.

To borrow from the Naval Academy's expectation for the "moral education" it teaches its graduates:

Those are "words to live by."

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.