Justice Dept. Reviewing Request to Name Special Prosecutor to Probe White House Job Offer to Sestak
April 22, 2010 - 5:28 PMIt is up to Attorney General Eric Holder to name a special prosecutor to investigate potential crimes stemming from the White House's alleged job offer to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.). Sestak says the White House wanted him to drop his Democratic Senate primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, requested that Holder name a prosecutor to investigate at least three potential crimes – attempted bribery, attempt by a public official to interfere with an election and the promise of government employment in exchange for political activity.
In his letter to Holder Wednesday, Issa noted that the White House Counsel’s Office has not responded to two previous inquiries in March, which he said is unusual.
“This White House has a long track record of mounting a considerable defense when it believes it has a basis for one,” Issa wrote. “Here, their silence is virtually an admission that they do not quarrel with Rep. Sestak’s account. The White House’s unwillingness to clearly and emphatically deny Rep. Sestak’s allegation of criminal conduct leads me to conclude that this account is accurate, reliable and truthful.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told CNSNews.com in a written response Thursday, “We'll review the congressman's letter.”
Issa contends that the only response the White House has made raised more questions than it answered.
After four weeks of questions from numerous reporters, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made a statement on March 16 and declined to answer any follow up questions.
“I’ve talked to several people in the White House. I’ve talked to people who have talked to others in the White House,” Gibbs said. “I’m told that whatever conversations have been had, are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that this is – whatever happened is in the past and he is focused on this primary.”
Issa wrote of the Gibbs response, “The Mark McGwire defense –not wanting to talk about what happened in the past – is not going to cut it here.”
“Gibbs’s statements – namely that he is collecting direct evidence from witnesses – imply that the White House is allowing its communications staff to carry out investigative tasks ordinarily conducted by legal professionals in the Counsel’s office,” Issa wrote. “As I am sure you would agree this is no way to conduct a credible investigation.”
He began the letter with, “I am writing to request that you name a special prosecutor to 28 U.S.C. Section 510 and 515 to conduct a formal investigation into whether a crime was committed when White House officials attempted to secure Rep. Joe Sestak’s withdrawal from Pennsylvania’s Democratic Primary for the United States Senate.”
Issa told CNSNews.com last week that if the attorney general did not name a special prosecutor, his staff would continue to investigate the matter and would do so even after the May 18 Pennsylvania primary.
The question first came up on Feb. 18, when veteran Philadelphia newsman Larry Kane asked, “Is it true that you were offered a high-ranking job in the administration in a bid to get you to drop out of the primary against Arlen Specter?”
Sestak answered, “Yes.” He declined to answer further questions about what the job was – when Kane asked the retired Navy admiral if it was for the position of Navy secretary – and who from the White House staff made the offer. In several subsequent interviews, Sestak reaffirmed that the offer was made, but declined to give details.
Neither a spokesman from Specter’s Senate office nor his campaign office returned phone calls to CNSNews.com Thursday.
But Specter, a former state prosecutor and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, told MSNBC, “There is a specific federal statute, which makes it a bribe to make an offer for a public office. When I was district attorney, if somebody came and told me that, I would say, well, ‘name names, name dates, name places.’”
Sestak’s spokesman had little to offer Thursday on the call for a special prosecutor.
“He has said what he has to say,” Sestak spokesman Jonathan Dworkin told CNSNews.com. “He is in this race now and we are moving forward.”