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Tilting at Windmills

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May 26, 2010

SENATE REPUBLICANS WANT SPECIAL PROSECUTOR.... It's hard to overstate how incredibly dumb this is.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder today, all seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee "urge the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Congressman Joe Sestak's claim that a White House official offered him a job to induce him to exit the Pennsylvania Senate primary race against Senator Arlen Specter."

The seven -- Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl or Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma -- allege that the 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."

If I had to guess, I'd say these seven conservative senators are well aware of how blisteringly stupid this is, but desperate political considerations have led to this pointless manufactured outrage.

How misguided is this? Let us count the ways....

1. Given the timeline of events, it's not even clear that there was a job offer.

2. Even if a job offer was discussed, legal experts -- including the chief ethics lawyer for the Bush/Cheney administration -- have concluded that there's nothing scandalous about this. Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor with the Justice Department's Public Integrity unit, said, "Talk about criminalizing the political process! ... It would be horrible precedent if what really truly is political horse-trading were viewed in the criminal context of: is this a corrupt bribe?"

3. Every modern administration -- and even plenty of not-so-modern administrations -- uses appointment opportunities as leverage in political negotiations. Reagan did it; Clinton did it; Bush did it. The notion that any of this necessitated a special prosecutor is madness. Ron Kaufman, who served as President George H.W. Bush's White House political director, said, "Tell me a White House that didn't do this, back to George Washington."

And just as an aside, the seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee really ought to be ashamed of themselves. These same senators saw the Plame scandal, Scooter Libby and his get-out-of-jail-free card, the warrantless-wiretap scandal, the torture memos, the purge of U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, the no-bid Halliburton contracts, the cost estimates of Medicare Part D deliberately hidden from Congress, Interior Department officials literally in bed with oil company officials, the pundits paid to toe the administration's line in the media without disclosure, the probably illegal fake-news segments the administration created to run on local news outlets without disclosure, the misuse of "faith-based" grants to help Republican congressional candidates, Karl Rove's campaign "briefings" to federal offices in violation of the Hatch Act, and plenty more alleged crimes committed by the Bush/Cheney gang that I'm probably forgetting.

The seven GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee not only saw no need for a special prosecutor in any of these scandals, but they didn't even want to hold hearings on the controversies.

And now they literally want to make a federal case out of Sestak's dubious claim? It's genuinely pathetic.

Steve Benen 2:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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If the Republicans win control of either house, this is what we'll get: endless investigations and demands for investigations over dubious matters.

I don't think Sestak's claim is "dubious", however.

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 26, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

When Democrats lose power, they wait their turn. Bunch of pussy's, I think.

However, when Republicans lose power, they embrace their inner hypocrite and re-write history.

Easy choice which is worse. I'm a registered Democrat because I can't suffer the alternative.

Posted by: Rochester on May 26, 2010 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

While there at it maybe they can investigate the Janet Napolitano appointment, after all that has devastated the Constitution by leaving Brewer & Co. in charge.

It's the same line of reasoning, pathetic.

Posted by: ScottW714 on May 26, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Duh, I think it's highly dubious. First of Sestak couldn't have take a position as alleged he was offered. Federal law prohibits serving officers from taking such position until like AFTER the fifth anniversary of their retirement. And you actually think a politically ambitious vice adm (or if you insist, rear admiral, higher grade) didn't know that.... does he also think the earth is flat, the Sun rises in the west, and Pres. Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia or the USSR?

Posted by: Steve on May 26, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl or Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma

Man, what a lineup. If there were some way to get Inhofe in there as well it'd be a perfect Ship of Fools!

Posted by: electrolite on May 26, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

It's a win-win scenario for the Republicans (but then again aren't ALL scenarios win-win for Republicans?). At first it's nothing more than political posturing, and if it goes no further, Republicans can whisper to each other in hushed tones that Obama "silenced" the investigation. Probably with the ghosts of Malcolm X and Saddam Hussein over his shoulders scaring good people into doing nothing. And of course they'll yammer on about it using the most Communist-esque slogan there ever was, that Obama should allow the investigation because after all "if he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear."

And if they do get their investigation, it will never stop, and it will never be limited in its scope and they'll keep digging until they find SOMETHING. They weren't looking for Lewinsky, but when they found her they beat the Clinton Administration as hard as they could with her.

They score points if nothing happens, they score points if something happens, and they may connect a Hail Mary throw that, if it doesn't destroy the Obama Administration (and it probably won't), it'll disillusion enough people to not vote to make it easier to steal an election or three. Win-win.

Posted by: slappy magoo on May 26, 2010 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

There may be nothing scandalous about this, but citing the opinion of the chief ethics lawyer for the Bush/Cheney administration doesn't do much to bolster that view for me.

Posted by: Old School on May 26, 2010 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. Imagine what the GOP would say if the White House had offered a $100,000 bribe to get Sestak to change his vote on a crucial issue.

No wait, I don't have to imagine:

Newt Gingrich [told] C-SPAN on Friday that Smith was "a disgruntled retiring member" who was the victim of nothing more than the usual treatment in a close vote.

"I just think this is one of those occasional Washington mountains that's being built out of less than a molehill," Gingrich said.


Posted by: Mary Contrary on May 26, 2010 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Buck,
Investigations, nothing...
I guarantee that if the "R"'s take the House, they will begin impeachment proceedings the day that they're sworn in.
Over what?
It won't matter, they just will.

Posted by: c uy n d gulag on May 26, 2010 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

I hate to say I told you so......

what the fuck am I saying? I LOVE TO SAY I TOLD YOU SO!!

Posted by: Fed Up and Tired on May 26, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

It's barely conceivable that Republicans could get some tactical traction with this-- but not very likely. The real message is that they're desperate, that they have nothing. No policy, no strategy, no national candidates. It's all a try at repeating the Clinton years-- special prosecutors, Contract with America, all warmed to a boil by the glow of Clinton-hatred. They'd love, dearly, to go back to the '90s... but I'll bet dollars to donuts that it ain't gonna happen.

Posted by: MattF on May 26, 2010 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

A clearer warning cannot be made about the consequences of voting for the GOP in 2010: they will seek to impeach Obama on some trumped up charge, just like they did the last time. JUST LIKE THEY DID THE LAST TIME !!!

Posted by: tom in ma on May 26, 2010 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

No, it is a strategy. They want to create the media narrative that "everybody does it," so that they can excuse real abuses of power as an everyday washington occurrence.

Posted by: jayackroyd on May 26, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

My question: Are all elected Republicans in Washington D.C. to make law, oversee program implementations and represent the interests of the consitituents in his/her home district, or merely there to waste my and our time with idiotic distractions cynically targeting anyone or thing they think will serve them well in the election cycle coming up in November.

Well, since I know my history, I think McConnell, Boehner and the seven senators who wrote the recent idiotic letter are no more worthy to our democratic way of life than one Joseph McCarthy who was masterful with the political gain to be made off attacking the perceived threats of communism in the 1950s!

Shall we call now Boehner, McConnell et al. McCarthy Republicans? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 26, 2010 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

It's a good reminder that there is no such thing as a patriotic Republican.

Posted by: Mike on May 26, 2010 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

They are there to put partisan politics ahead of peoples prosperity and the media will gleefully jump on the story and beat the drum so effin loud that even Olberman and maddow will succumb to covering the story 24/7.

Posted by: Fed Up and Tired on May 26, 2010 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

This stuff works. Doesn't matter if there is no substance to the charge. Media time will be filled with R's accusing, investigatin'.

"Everybody does it" isn't a perfectly sufficient defense, even if "it" is absolutely normal procedure. People are stupid, and media has commercials to sell.

Posted by: flubber on May 26, 2010 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

I remember when some of those names used to try and at least pretend they were more than partisan hacks. Gosh, that was a long time ago. They don't even bother pretending anymore.


Posted by: biggerbox on May 26, 2010 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

"everybody else does it" and "just playing politics" are fallacious arguments and are ludicrous, to say the least. The law is very simple and easy to understand. If someone in the Obama administration offered a job to Sestak in order to step down from a primary race, they interfered, directly, and have committed a crime. If it was more than one person, it was conspiracy.

18 U.S.C. 600 Promise of employment or other benefit for political

Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment,
position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit,
provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of
Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such
benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any
political activity or for the support of or opposition to any
candidate or any political party in connection with any general or
special election to any political office, or in connection with any
primary election or political convention or caucus held to select
candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this
title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

Posted by: RightandWrong on May 26, 2010 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

LYING IMMATURE BABIES!!! This is misdirection at it's worse! Did Sestak get offered a job? Probably. Is it ILLEGAL? NO, parties do it all the time. Is the GOP trying to make a big deal over it? Is the Pope Catholic? HONEST TO GOD! This is not the sixth grade and every single Senator that acts like this should get out of the Senate and go home. We have SERIOUS work to do. You didn't do it for the eight years you had power and you have been pouting for the last two. WE ARE TIRED OF WAITING...

Posted by: SYSPROG on May 26, 2010 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

The only way to stop this shit storm from occurring is for Eric Holder to immediately arrest Donald Rumsfeld and turn him over to the international courts for war crimes, Freeze all of Haliburtons and KBR's assets while an investigation takes place over the Iraq war and so on down the line. Anything less will not be loud enough to stop the media and its bull horn.

Posted by: Fed Up and Tired on May 26, 2010 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

As most of you likely realize (even Steve, ;-), the Rebaglicans don't really want to make a Federal case out of this - they want to make a media buzz case out of it. It's the publicity, the poisoning, not whether it would really stick.

Posted by: Neil B on May 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK

OTOH, does RightandWrong have a point? That should at least be addressed in context of the legal language, not generalities about who did what before etc.

Posted by: Neil B on May 26, 2010 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Neil? Why SHOULD this stuff be 'addressed'? I am serious. It stupid, it's a ploy and when you call them on it they shrug and move on to something else. Then they all shake hands and go back to work. It's the MEDIA that keeps it up. So 'addressed'? How about SHUT UP? EVERYONE knows it's a game. It makes me sick!

Posted by: SYSPROG on May 26, 2010 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

SYSPROG, so you are saying it's obviously not to be taken seriously as an issue per se. I can believe that, but I want to see legal analysis and not just about who's doing what and what motivates them. It's two logically separate issues.

Posted by: neil b on May 26, 2010 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

This isn't about whether the Repubs really hope to get an actual investigation going. They just want to create the media buzz and the leave the impression that there's a scandal here. The facts don't matter to create a narrative. And when the Justice Dept refuses to appoint a special prosecutor -- whoa ho, now there's a cover-up in progress.

Posted by: Emil France on May 26, 2010 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama wasn't such a pandering Corporatist he'd tell the Republicans that after they appoint Special Prosecutors to investigate the Republican's War Crimes (TORTUE, lying US into war, criminal negligence in failing to plan for or provide for the needs of the military to 'accomplish their mission'), the Republican's serial Corporate Frauds, the Republican's Criminal Spying, and the Republican's myriad quid pro quo deals with corrupt Corporate interests he'll consider their absurd request.

Obama has been subservient to these right-wing thugs for far, far too long.

It has been a stupid "pragmatist" strategy that has garnered none of the Bipartisan Ponies that befuddles the minds of the captured Corporate press and their pet suckers the "pragmatists".

Republicans have been playing hardball for over a year, Obama and his "pragmatist" cheerleaders need to put away their softballs, stop 'punching hippies' on their left, and start cracking some intellectual bats.

Obama should be hitting home runs and he keeps choosing to bunt.

Posted by: Annoyed on May 26, 2010 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Neil B, RightAndWrong is wrong.

That law is designed to cover scenarios like, "endorse me for this elective office and I will appoint you to xx adminstrative post".

It does not apply to offering someone a job that by its nature, accepting would require them to withdraw from (or given the timing, choosing not to file for) a campaign for an elective position.

Or, as a couple of the attorneys questioned about this have said, "there can be no quid pro quo, when the quid is the quo".

Posted by: tanstaafl on May 26, 2010 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

Well, that sounds reasonable but Wikipedia's article on him says the charge as made 'would be a felony' - someone needs to look at that. And why would this D-Rep complain like that? Isn't Sestak the guy progressives were supposed to support because Specter was too blue etc?

Posted by: neil b on May 26, 2010 at 9:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well, at MMFA thread I saw a comment quoting Jon Chait, which is a clever defense of the offer:

"Jon Chait at The New Republic puts the real issue pretty well:"

You don't have to rely on the "the word of White House officials." There's no such thing as offering somebody a job in return for them dropping out of a Senate race. The acceptance of a job means dropping out of a Senate race. The concept of offering somebody a job "in exchange" for them declining to seek another job is like offering to marry a woman in exchange for her not marrying some other guy. It's conceptually nonsensical. The Plame allegation was a story because there was a credible charge of law-breaking. There is no such credible charge here.

Posted by: neil b on May 26, 2010 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl or Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma might want to be careful, because I doubt seriously any of them is squeaky clean when it comes to the letter of the law. Maybe Holder should investigate them.

Posted by: Michael on May 26, 2010 at 11:58 PM | PERMALINK

This blog post by former Bush ethics lawyer, Richard Painter does a very good job of explaining why this is a non-scandal.

"The allegation that the job offer was somehow a “bribe” in return for Sestak not running in the primary is difficult to support. Sestak, if he had taken a job in the Administration, would not have been permitted to run in the Pennsylvania primary. The Hatch Act prohibits a federal employee from being a candidate for nomination or election to a partisan political office. 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(3). He had to choose one or the other, but he could not choose both.

The job offer may have been a way of getting Sestak out of Specter’s way, but this also is nothing new. Many candidates for top Administration appointments are politically active in the President’s political party. Many are candidates or are considering candidacy in primaries. White House political operatives don’t like contentious fights in their own party primaries and sometimes suggest jobs in the Administration for persons who otherwise would be contenders. For the White House, this is usually a “win-win” situation, giving the Administration politically savvy appointees in the Executive Branch and fewer contentious primaries for the Legislative Branch. This may not be best for voters who have less choice as a result, and Sestak thus should be commended for saying “no”. The job offer, however, is hardly a “bribe” when it is one of two alternatives that are mutually exclusive."

While I am not generally a fan of the level of ethics demonstrated by the Bush administration, Mr. Painter's expertise is still greater than that of the Republican Congressmen and Fox News personalities that have been pushing this scandal, and he is scarcely likely to be a pro-Obama partisan.

Posted by: tanstaafl on May 27, 2010 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

Btw, NeilB's post at 9:25PM motivated me to created an account at Wikipedia and make my first ever edit there.

Changed the sentence in Sestak's Wiki page that stated job offer "would be a felony" to "Some Republican allege that...".

Then added another sentence that other legal experts disagree with the suggestion that it would be either illegal or unethical.

In the Talk page for that section, pointed out the reference for it being illegal was an interview with Republican Congressman Darrell Issa and supported my sentence with reference to the statement from Richard Painter that I linked to in my previous post here.

It was quite fun, so I thank Neil B for motivating me to get involved at Wiki.

Posted by: tanstaafl on May 27, 2010 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

...plenty more alleged crimes committed by the Bush/Cheney gang that I'm probably forgetting.

What about the Minerals Management Service at the Department of the Interior during the Bush administration, where more than just minerals got serviced?

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on May 27, 2010 at 4:12 AM | PERMALINK

legal experts -- including the chief ethics lawyer for the Bush/Cheney administration

Steve - I don't think you should rely on the B/C adm for ethics advice.

Posted by: wbn on May 27, 2010 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

RightandWrong makes a big show of quoting 18 U.S.C. 600. Thing is, (s)he clearly doesn't understand it.

...as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity... for any political activity...

By law, no one serving in a Federal job may simultaneously serve in Congress. Meaning there's no consideration, and no case.

End of discussion.

Posted by: Big River Bandido on May 27, 2010 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK



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