- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Justice Department ought to open an investigation immediately into whether any White House officials broke federal law by offering administration jobs in return for disfavored Democratic candidates to withdraw from two major Senate races. Whether illegal or not, and whether as direct offers or just as broad hints, any job incentives of that sort are sleazy.

The story broke Feb. 18 when Rep. Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania Democrat, told a local cable news show that somebody in the administration offered him a high-ranking job if he would decline to challenge party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter in his state’s Democratic primary this year. Speculation has been rife that Mr. Sestak, a retired admiral, might get named as secretary of the Navy, although he would not identify the specific job he was offered. The congressman told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he stuck to his story even after the White House denied it.

This was the second such story in the past half-year. In August, the Denver Post cited “several top Colorado Democrats” who said that Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina “offered specific suggestions” for a administration job if former Colorado state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff would agree not to challenge Sen. Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat, this year. Again, the White House denied the story, but these are Democrats making the allegations, not Republicans attacking a White House of the opposing party. It is thus much harder to write off the claims as mere political hit jobs.

Writing in the American Spectator last week, former Reagan White House political director Jeffrey Lord made a serious case that if these offers were indeed made, they were probably illegal. He cited the following specific federal law: “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.” (That law is 18 USC Sec. 211 - Bribery, Graft and Conflicts of Interest: Acceptance or solicitation to obtain appointive public office.)

Mr. Lord explained why, at the very least, the Justice Department should open a preliminary inquiry into these claims. He said that investigators should subpoena records of e-mails and phone calls “between the White House, Sestak, Specter, Romanoff and Bennet.”

These sorts of “he said, she said” allegations are very difficult to prove, and there are all sorts of gray areas that can mean hints of jobs were inappropriate rather than illegal. Still, the allegations appear to come from credible sources, either directly from elected officials of long-standing or from people very close to those officials. An investigation should be mandatory.

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