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GOP Senators Want Sestak's 'Job Offer' Probed

May 26, 2010

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The charge, leveled by Joe Sestak during his Senate primary campaign against incumbent Arlen Specter — that someone in the Obama administration offered him a job if he would cease his challenge — has not gone away.

It took up much of Sunday's "Face the Nation" program on CBS, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has been peppered with questions about this since Sestak defeated Specter in the May 18 primary.

Gibbs has not exactly responded with answers.

Earlier today, according to ABC News' Jake Tapper, all seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the matter.

Their argument:  that the job 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 administration has denied any wrongdoing.  In a deliciously written piece in yesterday's New York Times, Peter Baker had this:

The White House wants everyone who suspects that something untoward, or even illegal, might have happened to rest easy: though it still will not reveal what happened, the White House is reassuring skeptics that it has examined its own actions and decided it did nothing wrong. Whatever it was that it did.

And that pushed the Republicans over the edge.  But Democrats are not exactly dismissing this either, sensing the potential for political fallout.  Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN, "At some point, I think Congressman Sestak needs to make it clear what happened."

Republicans think they have an issue here, and maybe they do, if just to score political points.  It's not clear what if any laws were broken.  "It happens all the time" is the common response I've been hearing.  And it does.  But there is a "but," as we hear from the Times' Baker:

Douglas B. Sosnik, the White House political director under President Bill Clinton, said using jobs to reward political friends was simply "business as usual." But, he added, that was the problem: Mr. Obama promised not to perpetuate business as usual. "It cuts against the Obama brand," he said. "The public tolerance for these deals is less than in the past."

And Ron Kaufman, who had the same job under the first President Bush, "said it would not be surprising for a White House to use political appointments to accomplish a political goal":

"But here's the difference — the times have changed and the ethics have changed and the scrutiny has changed. This is the kind of thing people across America are mad about."

Moreover, he said, Mr. Obama's own rhetoric raised the bar: "When you get out there and say, 'We're going to do things totally different, we're above all this and we're going to be totally transparent,' they cause their own problem because they're not being transparent."

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