(CNSNews.com) – Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate primary is less than a month away, but Democrats choosing a nominee should not deter a probe into possible crimes related to that primary committed by White House officials, said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The possible crime involves the claim – made by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) – that a White House official offered him a high-level administration job in exchange for Sestak dropping out of the primary race against Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). Sestak said such an offer was made to him, and members of Congress and legal experts have said if that's true, it would be a crime.
“I think a felony is something you don’t let go of just because an election has occurred,” Issa told CNSNews.com.
Issa also said that, in the coming days, he will ask Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the matter, but even if Holder does not name a prosecutor, Issa’s staff will continue to investigate the case.
The White House has not responded to two inquiries from Issa about the case and has not given clear answers to numerous press questions about the matter.
“We’ve had no direct response, and we’re losing patience with the White House,” Issa told CNSNews.com in an exclusive interview on Capitol Hill. “It clearly knows an offer was made. It is trying to characterize rather than answer the question for the press or for Congress about what this offer was.”
The matter first came up in February when Philadelphia TV newsman Larry Kane asked Sestak, “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,” but he declined to answer further questions about what the job was and who specifically made the offer. In several subsequent interviews, Sestak reaffirmed that the offer was made, but declined to give details.
“I think we have to go with the congressman’s statement that there was a quid pro quo offer,” Issa said. “He was offered a job if he would drop out of the Senate race.”
Criminal charges of attempted bribery and using an office to interfere with an election could be brought against the White House official who made the offer and anyone who authorized the offer, Issa said. (See Earlier Story)
Specter, a former state prosecutor and previous chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called on Sestak to “put up or shut up,” because if the allegation is true, it could constitute a bribe.
“There is a specific federal statute, which makes it a bribe to make an offer for a public office,” Specter told MSNBC. “When I was district attorney, if somebody came and told me that, I would say, well, ‘name names, name dates, name places.’ It’s a big black smear without specification. I’m telling you this is a federal crime, punishable by jail.”
In his letter to White House Counsel Robert Bauer, Issa stated this would be a violation of a law prohibiting the interference into an election.
The statute, U.S. Code 18, Section 595, says an official who “uses his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of … Member of the Senate … shall be fined under the title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.” (See Earlier Story)
Issa agreed with Specter about the potential bribery and believes that both counts would be brought by a U.S. attorney.
“Certainly, there are two sides to this coin,” said Issa. “One side is using a public office to affect an ongoing election, in this case the Senate race, that’s what we’re citing. But Senator Specter is absolutely right. The offering of a federal position for any reason other than legitimately for that person, would constitute a bribe. So, in a sense, they’re interfering on one hand and bribing on the other, and I think we’re both right.”
After a month of not answering reporters’ questions on the matter, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave a general answer that did not confirm or deny that an offer was made. (See Earlier Story)
“I’ve talked to several people in the White House; I’ve talked to people that 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’s focused on his primary election.”
On Feb. 20, an unnamed White House official told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the White House “vociferously” denied Sestak’s claim, but there has not been an on-the-record denial or confirmation of the Sestak allegation by the White House.
Issa said the investigation should extend beyond the White House official who made the apparent offer.
“It certainly would be a crime for the person Congressman Sestak has said offered him it,” Issa said. “That person would either have to say, ‘I acted alone,’ or be investigated as to whether he was part of a broader conspiracy. But, as you know, only the president can offer these jobs.”
Thus, he said, if President Obama authorized the offer, or was part of a cover up after the offer was made, he could also face legal problems.
“It very much appears as if an officer of the president, appointed by the president, has made an offer on behalf of the president,” Issa said.
“If the president didn’t know about it, we certainly would like to hear that he didn’t,” Issa said. “But if [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emmanuel or some other high-ranking officer is the person who made the offer, we certainly would believe that the president knew, or in vague terms, knew about it.”
Issa also agreed with Specter that Sestak has a responsibility to come forward and tell the full truth.
“He’s asserted a felony, he’s asserted a crime,” Issa said. “It is now having an effect on the administration’s ability to do their job. It’s having an effect on his own congressional race.
“It’s very clear he should come clean for the benefit of the voters, but also – more importantly – to eliminate the cloud of suspicion among those people who may not have been involved in it in the administration by naming the person who was [involved],” he added.
A Quinnipiac University Poll last week showed Specter beating Sestak by 53 percent to 32 percent in the Democratic primary. However, both candidates trail likely Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey. Specter trailed Toomey 46 percent to 41 percent. Sestak trailed Toomey 42 to 34 percent, according to the poll.