It’s no secret that the Obama administration wanted Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) to drop his primary challenge to Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter. But did President Obama’s representatives try to entice Sestak into leaving the race by promising him a job? It’s a simple question, and one that Sestak already has answered in the affirmative, but the administration continues to treat the issue as much ado about nothing.
Actually, it’s much ado about something. Yes, political factors often influence appointments in unsavory ways — witness the practice of awarding ambassadorships to campaign contributors. But as Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, points out, a federal statute makes it a crime, punishable by a fine or a year’s imprisonment, to offer a job to someone “as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party.”
We seldom agree with Issa, but in this case we believe his questions deserve a response. Sestak too owes Congress and the public a thorough explanation. After raising the issue when he was challenging Specter, he has turned coy. Now that he’s the Democratic nominee, his position is that further details are “for others to talk about.”
“Others” means the administration, which has been evasive about whether a job was discussed with Sestak, and if so, what it was and who made the overture. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said that conversations between the administration and Sestak “weren’t inappropriate in any way.” If that’s the case, why not describe those conversations in detail?
The administration no doubt thinks that Issa has a partisan agenda and has been carried away by inquisitorial enthusiasm. Not only has he called for an explanation from the White House, he also has asked the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether laws were broken. (The department declined, telling Issa that any criminal investigation would be handled by career prosecutors.) But the easiest way to take the wind out of Issa’s political sails is to answer his questions.