It seems clear now that the Obama administration has broken a federal law. Joe Sestak revealed this when he mentioned, in an interview in February, that he was offered a high-ranking federal position if he dropped his primary challenge against Senator Arlen Specter. After this moment of accidental honesty, he must have realized that this offer was illegal, because he then shut up for months, until everyone could get their story straight. No one is sure what the job is (Secretary of the Navy has been suggested), but it obviously had to be something that would be good enough to tempt someone away from a Senate run.
The White House response, that several politicians worked hard to craft and synchronize, is not terribly plausible, for reasons that are explained here, here, and here. It does have the virtue of absolving the White House of blame, While making Joe Sestak’s claim appear very exaggerated, but the idea that Rahm Emanuel sent Bill Clinton to offer Joe Sestak a mere advisory position that he was not even eligible for doesn’t make sense. Why would a 3 star admiral and member of Congress be tempted by such an offer?
So it is reasonable to believe that the Obama administration violated federal law (18 SC 600 is referred to in this article) when it made the offer to Joe Sestak. However, this law is rather stupid it it really applies to such a situation.
Let’s suppose that President Obama did offer Joe Sestak the position of Secretary of the Navy, or some position of similar prestige, in return for him dropping his primary challenge to Senator Specter. The President has the right to appoint the people of his choosing to his Cabinet, and a two term congressman who was a three star admiral is a plausible choice for that position. The Democratic Party also has the right to field the best slate of candidates that it can muster, and to place its “team” in the positions that it thinks are best. Candidate recruitment (and discouragement of costly primary battles) is part of this process.
So, imagine the following conversation that happened behind closed doors:
[Clinton]: So, Joe, about that primary challenge you are launching…
[Sestak]: Um, yes…
[Clinton]: Well, we worked really hard to get Benedict Arlen Specter to come over to the Democratic party, and we owe him a favor now. We kind of said we would try to get him a worry-free primary.
[Sestak]: But I think I can represent Pennsylvania better than that old geezer. Besides, the voters in PA want a real Democrat, not that half-breed who might become a Republican again before he dies. And even if he did win, he is like 80 years old. The odds are 50-50 that he would die in office, and then the new Republican governor we might get in 2010 would apoint his successor. I am your man.
[Clinton]: Sure, but a deal is a deal. Besides, a guy like you would make a great Secretary of the Navy, and you wouldn’t have to worry about those fickle voters. I’m just sayin’…
This conversation might be sleazy, it wouldn’t reflect well on anyone, and it shouldn’t be mentioned publicly, but there shouldn’t be a federal law against it. If voters discovered this conversation, we have ways of dealing with it.
I wish the Obama White House would just tell the truth, rather than carefully constructing a story that took too long to put together, and doesn’t make much sense. I would even give them credit if they admitted that their actions may have violated a law, but that they were not aware of the error at the time, and their focus was on staffing the executive branch and recruiting the best possible Senate candidates.
But instead they are looking like incompetent liars, intent on covering their behinds while they throw Joe Sestak under the bus.