Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 28, 2010

WHAT SESTAK WAS OFFERED.... The year's thinnest, most vapid, most manufactured political "controversy" appears to be ending with a whimper.

President Obama's chief of staff used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to see if Representative Joe Sestak would drop out of a Senate primary if given a prominent, but unpaid, advisory position, people briefed on the matter said Friday.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, asked Mr. Clinton to explore the possibilities last summer, according to the briefed individuals, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the politically charged situation. Mr. Sestak said no and went on to win last week's Pennsylvania Democratic primary against Senator Arlen Specter.

The White House did not offer Mr. Sestak a full-time paid position because Mr. Emanuel wanted him to stay in the House rather than risk losing his seat.

When Sestak first claimed in February that he'd been offered a job, that was a bit of an exaggeration. The discussions apparently included a spot on the Intelligence Advisory Board, but even that was quickly dismissed as an idea because he couldn't serve on the panel while remaining in Congress.

So, what are we left with? Perhaps the dullest, most inconsequential White House "controversy" in a very long time.

The White House counsel's office prepared a memo, explaining the situation in a way that even Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) can understand: "There have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations -- both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals -- discussed alternative paths to service for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office. Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements."

Obviously. When the Reagan White House offered Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R) a job in 1981 in the hopes of convincing him to drop out of the Republican Senate primary race in California, no one cared. When George W. Bush's White House approached Rep. Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.) about a job in the hopes of convincing him not to run for re-election, no one cared. Mundane political efforts like these fail to raise an eyebrow because they're the very definition of routine. As Ron Kaufman, who served as President George H.W. Bush's White House political director, said this week, "Tell me a White House that didn't do this, back to George Washington."

In this case, it's even thinner, since Sestak wasn't even offered a job, but rather an unpaid advisory position, which a) wasn't particularly enticing; and b) was quickly dismissed anyway.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told Greg Sargent that this couldn't constitute bribery. "Beyond that, Sloan adds, the Federal bribery statute requires an offer of something of value in exchange for an official act. Sloan says that not running for Senate would not constitute an official act in any case, even if a paid position were offered in return for dropping a run for office."

The political world can now move on, hopefully feeling chastened for taking this nonsensical story seriously in the first place.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Good luck with that. I predict another week of news cycles.

Posted by: Z. Mulls on May 28, 2010 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, it seems inconsequential. The most interesting question to me is why Sestak brought this up in the first place -- naivete? self-aggrandizement? He's lucky Toomey is his opponent. The rest of us may not be so lucky.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on May 28, 2010 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK


It's OK If You Are A Republican
It's Criminal If You Are A Democrat.

Posted by: joyzeeboy on May 28, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: Michael on May 28, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

As IIRC Jon Chait observed, you can't really offer a job "in return for" quitting a run for Congress etc. Taking the job means having to quit inherently, not as quid pro quo. Chait said, ~ like asking a guy to marry one woman if he'd agree not to marry the other one. Unfortunately that defense sounds "sophistic" and won't work on the masses as well as pointing out previous exercises. But what does the relevant law specifically say? We do need to look that over.

Posted by: Neil B on May 28, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

I guess the "Morning Joe" crew can give it a rest now.

Posted by: Eddie Davis on May 28, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Folks, (to use a Limbaugh word) where there's smoke, there's fire.

And, at this moment, there is a group of Gopers seriously fanning a pile of smouldering leaves. . .

Posted by: DAY on May 28, 2010 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Just looked at an article online and the comments are ridiculous - Obama detractors are using this as further "proof" that he's dangerous, a socialist, a Kenyan, you name it.

Meanwhile this will continue to be a "story" on the teevee. And real ethical malfeasance (Ensign, etc. etc.) will continue to be ignored.

Why in the world Sestak brought it up is beyond me. The WH can't be very happy with him.

Posted by: Hannah on May 28, 2010 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Perhaps the dullest, most inconsequential White House "controversy" in a very long time."

yeah. Since "plamegate".

Posted by: a on May 28, 2010 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Hah, you wish. We'll keep hearing about "Chicago style" politics, as if this has never been practiced anywhere before. When their party was in power, they were slinty-eyed macho men who kicked in doors and "made their own reality." Congress members were openly bribed and threatened to get ridiculous bills like Medicare Part D passed. That was then.

Now that they are demoted to asking Glen Beck and Sarah Palin, gee, what should we do next, they're suddenly the outraged defenders of our delicate national purity. It's all show biz. They just want power again, they want to be on that gravy train where ridiculous people like Souder, who should be third librarian assistant, are instead banging their assistants, drawn to their power.

Posted by: Rathskeller on May 28, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

a: I hope you're joking. Comparing the treasonous outing a covert CIA operative who was working on Iranian WMD intel with offering someone a non-paid position to not run for office on an equal basis?

No wonder this country is in trouble.

Posted by: Hannah on May 28, 2010 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Chastened? King John? Seriously?

Posted by: SW on May 28, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

I'd still like to determine the exact sequence of events. Sestak announced his candidacy on Aug 4. Clinton's offer occurred "last summer". Was the offer made before Sestak announced his candidacy or after? I don't think it really matters one way or the other, but I'm curious to see what happened when.

Posted by: gorillagogo on May 28, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

That Steve! What a Pollyanna!

...One thing is clear, though: If White House officials weren't at least a little worried, they would have released this information at some other time than the Friday before a holiday weekend.

-Holly Bailey, Yahoo News

Posted by: howie on May 28, 2010 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Do you really think Chris Matthews will give up on this non-issue and take on the responsibility of doing thoughtful journalism that addresses issues of significance? I think not. Fools like Matthews and the Morning Joe crew fall for these hyped up non-issues over and over again. It's time to turn them off.

Posted by: mperloe on May 28, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

No wonder Sestak has remained silent on the details of this incident. If these details had come out before the primary vote, it would have made him look like a fool for raising the issue. It also makes the WH look bad for not trying very hard to clear the field for Specter. Expect little cooperation from Specter from here on out.

Posted by: TeeJay in AR on May 28, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

This whole thing is just another damning example of how utterly, pathetically, disgustingly useless our media is.

Specifically, the fact that this non-issue has been covered more than Ensign's sex scandal. And the media ALWAYS loves a good sex scandal.

Wonder what it is that's keeping them from covering the Ensign story? Because we know for damn sure if the dude had a "D" after his name, that's all we'd have heard about for months ...

Posted by: Mark D on May 28, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

I've got a better question: why did the WH want Sestak out of the race anyway? Too progressive for the neolibs? Isn't that what screwed up the HI race, in reverse?

Posted by: delver on May 28, 2010 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, can we have a post about Sestak and why he leaked this to the media in the first place? This wouldn't help position him as a D.C. outsider since he's a Rep. already. It's just hard to understand why he would ruffle feathers unnecessarily.

Posted by: CDW on May 28, 2010 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK
... where there's smoke, there's fire.

Not always.

Sometimes it's coming from some dolt smoking a ditch-weed doobie behind the building. You know, like our political pundits ...


Oh, and anyone comparing this non-issue to the outing of a CIA agent for political purposes during a time of war is too stupid to take seriously.

Posted by: Mark D on May 28, 2010 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

This will go on for a few more weeks. Reality never gets in the way of Republican Media Talking Points.

What we've learned over the last 10 years from the Right: it doesn't matter if what you're saying is true, what matters is that it gets repeated.

Good God, but our "News" Media really sucks.

Posted by: Rochester on May 28, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Again, the better question is why they tried to draw Sestak away, not how. The usual excuse is electoral calculus, but don't we know that disapproval from big donors is more impactive?
The Democratic Party needs better donors, bigger balls; something else.

Posted by: delver on May 28, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Sestak made the statement at a time when his candicacy was new and Specter was getting a lot of support from the WH and DSCC. He was effectively running as an outsider. He probably wanted to up his credibility as being separate from WH and his own integrity by showing that

1 - They were afraid enough of him to want him out of the way
2 - He had enough integrity not to be 'bought-off'.

Posted by: thorin-1 on May 28, 2010 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

This country is in trouble because of decades worth of DUMBING DOWN the voting public and the inept and paid for media!!! You get what you pay for...why do you think Glenn, Scarah, Rand, etc...are so attractive to these braindead folks?

Posted by: Dancer on May 28, 2010 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

QUICK..time for a celebrity to die so our media can move on to another meaningless story...SORRY, Gary, you do not qualify...

Posted by: Dancer on May 28, 2010 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

On top of everything else, it makes Sestak's character look very strong. He didn't bend to WH pressure. I'd surprised if this didn't enter into his campaign strategy for the general.

Posted by: digitusmedius on May 28, 2010 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

All I took from this story is that Rahmbo is a cheap prick (not even a full-time, paid, job???). But, since I knew it already anyway, I can't say I learnt anything new.

Posted by: exlibra on May 28, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

So it seems that Obama can't even offer a proper bribe. Oh my. Can he do any thing right.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on May 28, 2010 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

Over at Information Dissemination (Naval policy blog) it was pointed out that Sestak could never have taken the original job mentioned; it was not legally possible for him to do so. Besides which, he'd never have been accepted due to conflicts in perspective w/the current occupants higher up in the Pentagon food chain.

Whatever; the whole matter was a desperate concoction anyway.

Posted by: Doug Bostrom on May 28, 2010 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

It may be a non-story, but that didn't stop FOX from spending the better part of the day discussing it.

Posted by: ShadVT on May 28, 2010 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

but...but...but, the letter was signed by all 7 republican members of the Judiciary committee...they were "outraged" to the point of wanting a special prosecutor and head toward impeachment. What judicious blowhards and petty hypocrites. Republican rhetoric over the past 2yrs should make a good book for mockery of so called republican values

Posted by: bjobotts on May 28, 2010 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

To me what is most important is that neither the WH nor the DNC punishied Sestak.
They did not support him, but they did not really go after him, as a party.

No harm no foul, and the courts allow the political parties to pretty much run their own show internally.

Posted by: Marnie on May 28, 2010 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

When an intermediary is used to sound out whether someone might be interested in taking a particular job, that's not a "job offer". It's a "feeler". So now that the details are out, not only wasn't there a real job (since it was an unpaid, advisory position), but there wasn't even an offer.

Not that it makes much difference. There was no story here to begin with.

Posted by: Big River Bandido on May 29, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

1) I agree that what is alleged by critics to have happened is routine, and shouldn't be a crime. But that does not, in fact, have any bearing on whether it's a crime.

2) Melanie Sloan is completely wrong; apparently she doesn't understand what law is at issue. It's not the general bribery statute, but a different one. Nothing in the relevant statute (18 U.S.C. 600) refers to "official acts." In fact, it explicitly refers to "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."

3) If you actually read the coverage of Hayakawa, everyone -- Hayakawa and the administration -- denied that he was offered a job. On the other hand, Sestak was the one who alleged he was offered a job as a quid pro quo.

4) Since when does the fact that the White House says, "Nothing to see here; everyone move on," and solemnly assures you that no crime was committed constitute evidence that in fact no crime was committed? Somehow I don't quite recall that level of deference to the White House's assurances during the U.S. Attorneys "scandal."

5) In particular, the White House's current version of events is hardly credible. We know -- they admit -- that they didn't want Sestak to run for the Senate. On what planet would an "unpaid advisory position" have been even thought to be sufficient inducement to convince him not to run?

6) I am not saying that the White House broke the law; they were probably smart enough to avoid any express quid pro quo, and Sestak, who isn't a lawyer, probably vaguely described it as such in lay terms rather than as a specific description of what happened.

Posted by: David M. Nieporent on May 30, 2010 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

I think that to get the personal loans from creditors you must have a great reason. However, once I have got a secured loan, just because I wanted to buy a building.

Posted by: LUISA19CHAVEZ on February 5, 2011 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK



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