The Sestak Affair
Everyone is talking about Joe Sestak, the congressman from Pennsylvania currently running for a seat in the US Senate. In February, Sestak claimed the White House offered him some sort of federal appointment or job in exchange for not running, which would be a felony under federal law, which stipulates that one can’t offer something of value in exchange for bowing out of a political race.
After months of speculating exactly what may or may not have happened, White House Counsel Robert Bauer released a memo clearing the administration of all impropriety just a couple days ago.
You can read more about Joe Sestak here. (Wikipedia)
You can read a more conservative news source’s article here (Fox News)
Finally, you can read Bauer’s official memo here (The Atlantic – PDF file).
I don’t know what to make of this issue. On one hand, it seems that the administration did violate the law in offering Sestak something of value in exchange for dropping out of a political race. While that position may have been unpaid, there is no question it would have upped Sestak’s importance within the administration, which is certainly of political value, if not monetary.
On the other hand, some people – mostly liberals, but some conservatives – point out this type of thing happens all the time. Bauer himself references that fact in his memo. And, further, the claim is made this type of exchange does not violate the letter of the law.
I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know. But here are some things that make me wonder:
Sestak’s initial claim in February was, at best, nebulous. He did state he was offered a position in exchange for dropping out of the Senate race, but refused to elaborate further, leaving it completely up to the imagination of the voter as to whether any impropriety had occurred. The fact he did this before the primary, but after Arlen Specter, his opponent, switched parties from Republican to Democrat is also highly interesting.
Why say anything if he wasn’t willing to say everything? And, since Barack Obama himself backed Specter, my suspicious nature leads me to believe Sestak may have been motivated by a desire to discredit Specter by linking him to a potential scandal via the President’s endorsement and the possibility of illegal activity involving the primary.
Sestak was clearly content to let the media, and the public, stew on this issue for months. Only after defeating Specter in the primary did he jump on board the administration’s current claims that allegations of law breaking were unfounded. Sestak’s clarification matched perfectly with Bauer’s, and they both came out around the same time: months after the initial scandal broke and, again, only after the primary was decided in Sestak’s favor.
What I wonder most is: what would have been Sestak’s position if he had lost the primary? Would he have downplayed the offer like he did? Or would he have gone the other way, making it seem there was political maneuvering involved to keep him out of the senatorial race (which there apparently was)? In short, which side would he have been on if things hadn’t gone his way? And why?
I hate to question the motives of anyone with such a distinguished military career, especially this particular weekend, but I must.
It doesn’t look good for either Sestak or the Obama administration that it took such a long time to set the record straight, if in fact it has been. One can only imagine all the backroom conversations, emails and memos that must have been exchanged before any public statement was made. If this is really a political and legal non-issue, why the long pause?
Conversely, if this sort of thing actually is a common practice in Washington, what’s to be made of it becoming such a big, partisan deal in this instance? Is the Sestak offer truly unique and law-violating? Or is this just a ploy to discredit another liberal politician? (Personally, I don’t think we need ploys; they discredit themselves simply by opening their mouths.) If the former, then by all means, we should launch an investigation and uncover the details. If the latter, then it’s a huge waste of time and tax payer money to go after a red herring. And, if we do it to them now, you know they’ll do it to us as soon as possible.
I’m for uncovering any and all government corruption. Not only is it wrong in a moral sense, but it prevents the government from functioning as intended. It is also expensive, as the cost of any ongoing investigations will no doubt prove.
If we’re going to proceed with this issue, which it seems like we are, let’s proceed with utmost caution. I don’t know about the law, but I do know about integrity, and I’m questioning Sestak’s right now, more than anyone’s.