White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and his deputy, Jim Messina, both seem to have violated at least the spirit of the law in dangling potential jobs before would-be candidates, apparently to entice them out of contested Senate races. If allegations by disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich prove true, it would mean the White House engaged in similar behavior in President Obama’s political home state - raising the specter of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Mr. Messina discussed jobs and elections with former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff last year. “Jim Messina called and e-mailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the U.S. Senate,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs explained. “Months earlier, the president had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.”
This is as clear an admission of a quid pro quo as you’ll ever see in politics. It comes after the White House acknowledged that Mr. Emanuel specifically enlisted former President Bill Clinton to discuss an appointment for Rep. Joe Sestak if the Pennsylvania Democrat would avoid a primary battle with Sen. Arlen Specter. Mr. Blagojevich adds another claim in his corruption trial, which began Thursday, that an Obama supporter promised benefits if the then-governor would appoint Mr. Obama’s choice, Valerie Jarrett, to the president’s former Senate seat.
No matter how the White House parses it, “directly or indirectly” promising “any employment” to someone “in connection with any primary election … for any political office” violates 18 U.S. Code 600. The administration faces the danger that RICO statutes kick in whenever members of the same organization are found to have engaged in a “pattern” of crime in which covered acts, such as bribery, “have the same or similar purposes,” according to the Supreme Court.
Prosecutors may not want to use the RICO law to complicate these fairly straightforward cases. The apparent pattern of White House misbehavior, though, is highly disturbing. RICO or not, it merits a thorough and independent investigation.