Top Republicans to White House: Alleged Facts in Your Sestak Memo Appear to Document Lawbreaking

June 2, 2010 - 5:14 PM
Three top House Republicans sent a letter to the White House counsel Wednesday saying they believe that a memorandum the counsel released purporting to explain the administration's actions in offering to appoint Rep. Joe Sestak (D.-Pa.) to a federal position present a set of facts that appear to violate the law. 

White House Counsel Robert F. Bauer (AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson

(CNSNews.com) - Three top House Republicans sent a letter to the White House counsel Wednesday saying they believe that a memorandum the counsel released Friday purporting to explain the administration’s actions in offering to appoint Rep. Joe Sestak (D.-Pa.) to a federal position in exchange for Sestak declining to make a Democratic primary run against Sen. Arlen Specter (D.-Pa.) presents a set of facts that appear to violate the law.

White House Counsel Robert F. Bauer released a memorandum on Friday afternoon about the Sestak incident. It says the White House made “efforts” in June and July of last year to “determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary,” and that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel recruited former President Bill Clinton to offer Sestak a position on such a panel.

On Wednesday, Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee; Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Bauer requesting that he produce all the documentation created and collected by his office in investigating the Sestak matter.

The letter expressed the congressmen’s view that the facts presented by Bauer’s memo appear to represent a violation of federal law.  
 
“Even if we suspend our disbelief that the White House asked a former U.S. president to call on a member of Congress to offer a mere unpaid advisory position in exchange for dropping out of a Senate race, the facts alleged in the Sestak memorandum still appear to violate several sections of the United States Code,” the letter said.
 
The sentence in the letter carries a footnote that cites 18 U.S.C. Sections 211, 595 and 600 and 5 U.S.C. Sections 1501-1508. These statutes deal with corruption in federal appointments and interfering with elections.
 
Issa told CNSNews.com Wednesday that he expected public pressure on the administration to mount to the point where it would have to name a special prosecutor, a request the Justice Department has already turned down.
 
“The FBI is at some point going to say we believe we should investigate that and they are going to put it in a memo and that memo will eventually become public,” Issa said.  “Secondly, we believe U.S. attorneys are undoubtedly already asking the attorney general, ‘Don’t you think we should investigate this?’ That pressure might take months. It might not even occur until after the election. But I don’t believe the series of events or series of questions, I don’t think they’re going to go away until we get answers that are acceptable to the press.”
 
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that unnamed administration officials said the White House had also "dangled the possibility of a job," as the Associated Press put it, to Democrat Andrew Romanoff "in the hopes he would forego a challenge to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet" in a Colorado primary.
 
Issa said that people he knows who worked in the White House do not consider this business as usual.
 
“They all shiver when they hear this is business as usual because all of their ethics training tells them that you don’t even smile and wink when somebody says, ‘You know I hope the administration is going to give me this appointment for all that I’m doing,’” Issa told CNSNews.com.
 
“Any quid pro quo is a criminal act,” he continued. “It’s the same for us, a different branch. But just to give you an example: If I--during a campaign--promised my campaign manager the chief of staff position if I won, that’s a crime. It’s very straight forward. You can’t do that. Presidential candidates get an ethics briefing that says don’t ever answer anybody’s question about a future appointment. Don’t ever introduce somebody as your future secretary of state or anything like that because that’s illegal.”
 
In requesting documentation of its internal Sestak investigation from the White House Counsel’s Office, the congressmen’s letter quoted a Jan. 21, 2009 memorandum from President Obama that promised his administration would be dedicated to transparency. “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,” Obama said in the memo.
 
“The American people elected a president who promised to change the status quo and the business-as-usual practices of Washington,” the congressmen wrote. “Has this White House become part of the establishment they once opposed?”
 
The congressmen gave Bauer a deadline of June 9 to produce all documents created or used by the White House counsel’s office in investigating the Sestak matter and producing its memo on the question. This included all “notes or transcripts of interviews conducted by lawyers in the Office of the White House Counsel with witnesses in the Sestak matter, including but not limited to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, President Bill Clinton, Rep. Joe Sestak and Richard Sestak.”
 
Richard Sestak is the congressman’s brother and campaign manager.