"Whoever solicits or receives … any….thing of value, in consideration of the promise of support or use of influence in obtaining for any person any appointive office or place under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both." -- 18 USC Sec. 211 -- Bribery, Graft and Conflicts of Interest: Acceptance or solicitation to obtain appointive public office
"In the face of a White House denial, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak stuck to his story yesterday that the Obama administration offered him a "high-ranking" government post if he would not run against U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary."
-- Philadelphia Inquirer
February 19, 2010
"D.C. job alleged as attempt to deter Romanoff"
September 27, 2009
A bombshell has just exploded in the 2010 elections.
For the second time in five months, the Obama White House is being accused -- by Democrats -- of offering high ranking government jobs in return for political favors. What no one is reporting is that this is a violation of federal law that can lead to prison time, a fine or both, according to Title 18, Chapter 11, Section 211 of the United States Code.
The jobs in question? Secretary of the Navy and a position within the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The favor requested in return? Withdrawal from Senate challenges to two sitting United States Senators, both Democrats supported by President Obama. The Senators are Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Michael Bennet in Colorado.
On Friday, Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak, the Democrat challenging Specter for re-nomination, launched the controversy by accusing the Obama White House of offering him a federal job in exchange for his agreeing to abandon his race against Specter.
In August of 2009, the Denver Post reported last September, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina "offered specific suggestions" for a job in the Obama Administration to Colorado Democrat Andrew Romanoff, a former state House Speaker, if Romanoff would agree to abandon a nomination challenge to U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. Bennet was appointed to the seat upon the resignation of then-Senator Ken Salazar after Salazar was appointed by Obama to serve as Secretary of the Interior. According to the Post, the specific job mentioned was in the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Post cited "several sources who described the communication to The Denver Post."
The paper also describes Messina as "President Barack Obama's deputy chief of staff and a storied fixer in the White House political shop." Messina's immediate boss is White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Sestak is standing by his story. Romanoff refused to discuss it with the Denver paper. In both instances the White House has denied the offers took place. The Sestak story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, reported by Thomas Fitzgerald, can be found here, While the Denver Post story, reported by Michael Riley, from September 27, 2009, can be read here.
In an interview with Philadelphia television anchor Larry Kane, who broke the story on Larry Kane: Voice of Reason, a Comcast Network show, Sestak says someone -- unnamed -- in the Obama White House offered him a federal job if he would quit the Senate race against Specter, the latter having the support of President Obama, Vice President Biden and, in the state itself, outgoing Democratic Governor Ed Rendell. Both Biden and Rendell are longtime friends of Specter, with Biden taking personal credit for convincing Specter to leave the Republican Party and switch to the Democrats. Rendell served as a deputy to Specter when the future senator's career began as Philadelphia's District Attorney, a job Rendell himself would eventually hold.
Asked Kane of Sestak in the Comcast interview:
"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" replied Sestak.
Kane: "Was it Secretary of the Navy?"
To which the Congressman replied:
Sestak is a retired Navy admiral.
In the Colorado case, the Post reported that while Romanoff refused comment on a withdrawal-for-a-job offer, "several top Colorado Democrats described Messina's outreach to Romanoff to The Post, including the discussion of specific jobs in the administration. They asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject."
The Post also noted that the day after Romanoff announced his Senate candidacy, President Obama quickly announced his endorsement of Senator Bennet.
The discovery that the White House has now been reported on two separate occasions in two different states to be deliberately committing a potential violation of federal law -- in order to preserve the Democrats' Senate majority -- could prove explosive in this highly political year. The 60-seat majority slipped to 59 seats with the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, and the election of Republican Senator Scott Brown. Many political analysts are suggesting Democrats could lose enough seats to lose their majority altogether.
This is the stuff of congressional investigations and cable news alerts, as an array of questions will inevitably start being asked of the Obama White House.
Here are but a few lines of inquiry, some inevitably straight out of Watergate.
* Who in the White House had this conversation with Congressman Sestak?
* Did Deputy Chief of Staff Messina have the same conversation with Sestak he is alleged to have had with Romanoff -- and has he or anyone else on the White House staff had similar conversations with other candidates that promise federal jobs for political favors?
* They keep logs of these calls. How quickly will they be produced?
* How quickly would e-mails between the White House, Sestak, Specter, Romanoff and Bennet be produced?
* Secretary of the Navy is an important job. Did this job offer or the reported offer of the US AID position to Romanoff have the approval of President Obama or Vice President Biden?
* What did the President know and when did he know it?
* What did the Vice President know and when did he know it? (Note: Vice President Biden, in this tale, is Specter's longtime friend who takes credit for luring Specter to switch parties. Can it really be that an offer of Secretary of the Navy to get Sestak out of Specter's race would not be known and or approved by the Vice President? Does Messina or some other White House staffer -- like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- have that authority?)
* What did White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel know, and when did he know it?
* What did Congressman Sestak know and when did he know it? Was he aware that the offer of a federal job in return for a political favor -- his withdrawal from the Senate race -- could open the White House to a criminal investigation?
* What did Senator Specter know about any of this and when did he know it? .
* What did Governor Rendell, who, as the titular leader of Pennsylvania Democrats, is throwing his political weight and machine to his old friend Specter, know about this? And when did he know it?
* Will the Department of Justice be looking into these two separate news stories, one supplied by a sitting United States Congressman, that paint a clear picture of jobs for political favors?
* Will Attorney General Holder recuse himself from such an investigation?
While in recent years there have been bribery scandals that centered on the exchange of favors for a business deal (Democrat William Jefferson, a Louisiana Congressman) or cash for earmarks (Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham), the idea of violating federal law by offering a federal job in return for a political favor (leaving two hotly contested Senate races in this instance) is not new.
Let's go back in history for a moment.
It's the spring of 1960, in the middle of a bitter fight for the Democratic presidential nomination between then Senators John F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Stuart Symington and the 1952 and 1956 nominee, ex-Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson.
Covering the campaign for what would become the grandfather of all political campaign books was journalist and JFK friend Theodore H. White. In his book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the President 1960, published in 1961, White tells the story of a plane flight with JFK on the candidate's private plane The Caroline. The nomination fight is going on at a furious pace, and White and Kennedy are having another of their innumerable private chats for White's book while the plane brings JFK back from a campaign swing where he spoke to delegates in Montana.
The subject? Let's let White tell the story.
The conversation began in a burst of anger. A story had appeared in a New York newspaper that evening that an Eastern Governor had claimed that Kennedy had offered him a cabinet post in return for his Convention support. His anger was cold, furious. When Kennedy is angry, he is at his most precise, almost schoolmasterish. It is a federal offense, he said, to offer any man a federal job in return for a favor. This was an accusation of a federal offense. It was not so.
Let's focus on that JFK line again:
"It is a federal offense, he said, to offer any man a federal job in return for a favor."
With a fine and jail time attached if convicted.
What Larry Kane discovered with the response of Congressman Sestak -- and Sestak is sticking to his story -- combined with what the Denver Post has previously reported in the Romanoff case -- appears to be a series of connecting dots.
A connecting of dots -- by Democrats -- that leads from Colorado to Pennsylvania straight into the West Wing of the White House.
And possibly the jail house.
"It is a federal offense," said John F. Kennedy, "to offer any man a federal job in return for a favor."
And so it is.