In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder today, all seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee “urge the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Congressman Joe Sestak’s claim that a White House official offered him a job to induce him to exit the Pennsylvania Senate primary race against Senator Arlen Specter.”
The seven – Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl or Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma – allege that the offer would appear to violate federal criminal laws, including 18 U.S.C. 600, which prohibits promising a government position “as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity” or “in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office.”…
[The seven] wrote to Holder that they “do not believe the Department of Justice can properly defer to White House lawyers to investigate a matter that could involve ‘a serious breach of the law.’ The White House cannot possibly manage an internal investigation of potential criminal misconduct while simultaneously crafting a public narrative to rebut the claim that misconduct occurred.”
Darrell Issa, who started the drum-beating about this, is calling it Obama’s Watergate and potential grounds for impeachment, and went as far this week as to threaten Sestak with an ethics complaint if he doesn’t come clean. Here’s the key federal statute, although it’s not the only one in play potentially: Karl Rove cited three criminal provisions on Monday night that could conceivably have been violated.
Sec. 600. Promise of employment or other benefit for political
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.
The defense, I assume, will be that no job was explicitly “promised,” just sort of hinted at in order to preserve plausible deniability. E.g., “Gee, Joe, it’s a shame you’re running for Senate. We were thinking about you for Secretary of the Navy in two years.” Granted, that sounds like an indirect promise, but since all parties concerned are now aligned politically and probably were smart enough to conduct this negotiation through non-recorded means, I don’t know how we’ll ever find a smoking gun. And like Byron York, I don’t know how anyone expects The One to sign off on a special prosecutor when the GOP momentarily has no congressional leverage over him. The only way that’s happening is if the media starts bulldogging him five months out from an election that’s already threatening Democratic control of Congress. How lucky do you feel?
Exit question: Assuming something happens here, who’ll be taking the fall for The One and Axelrod?