Two Members of Congress Say That If Administration Offered Sestak Job to Drop Senate Race It Could Be a Crime

By Fred Lucas | March 11, 2010 | 8:10 PM EST

Rep. Joe Sestak (D.-Pa.) is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. Senate primary. (AP Photo/George Widman)

Washington ( – Two members of Congress said this week that someone in the White House may have committed a crime if they offered Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) an administration job in exchange for him not running in Pennsylvania’s Democratic senate primary against Sen. Arlen Specter, an allegation that Sestak said was true.

Meanwhile, despite several media inquiries over the last few weeks and the comgressmens’ statments, the White House continues to withhold comment on the matter.

Sestak’s opponent in the primary, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, both said this week that if Sestak’s claim is true, such a job offer could constitute a federal crime.

Specter specifically said it would constitute bribery, while Issa referenced three sections of the U.S. code on the matter.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has repeatedly declined to confirm or deny Sestak’s allegation. He did so again on Thursday, Mar. 11,  even after the two members of Congress said criminal conduct could have been involved. However, the Philadelphia Inquirer previously reported that an unnamed White House source had denied Sestak’s claim.

This week, Sestak reaffirmed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe what he claimed in other TV interviews: That he was offered a job with the Obama administration if he would drop his challenge to Specter, a former Republican who switched parties in early 2009.

“Something happened last July before I got in the race and I never got asked about it, since someone asked me,” Sestak said. “You know what, I answered it honestly. I just said, ‘yes.’ I didn’t go beyond that. And actually, I don’t think I should.”

Also on MSNBC, Specter, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded to the controversy in an interview with host Andrea Mitchell.

Sen. Arlen Specter, now a Democrat of Pennsylvania, appeared with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (not shown) at the White House on Wednesday, April 29, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“Horse trading like that shouldn’t go on,” said Specter. “But don’t presume that it went on, Andrea. There have been a number of commentators who have picked up on what Congressman Sestak has said and identified it as a bribe, punishable by jail."

“And that’s a pretty strong charge to make against the president’s administration, implying perhaps even the president himself,” Specter said. “So, I do think that someone who is going to make the charge ought to stand up and name names and name dates and back it up, and not just make the charge. He gets a lot of political mileage out of that pretty inexpensively, but at the expense of the administration and at the expense of the president. Making charges without backing it up is not the right way to do business.”

Mitchell then asked, “What you are telling me, that if Joe Sestak is correct, if he can prove that this was actually offered that, that is a bribe, and becomes a legal issue against whomever in the White House offered that?”

Specter said, “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. That’s a very serious charge. It’s a big black smear without specification. I’m telling you there is a federal crime, punishable by jail. Anybody who wants to say that ought to back it up.

Congressman Sestak has gotten a lot of political mileage out of that. It’s really an attack on the administration.” contacted Specter’s press office on Thursday to ask specifically to which statute he was referring but his office did not respond before this story was posted.

Meanwhile, Rep. Issa wrote a letter on Wednesday to White House Counsel Robert Bauer citing U.S. Code 18, Sections 211, 595, and 600 regarding the bribery of a public official. Section 595 says someone 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 President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate of the District of Columbia or Resident Commissioner, shall be fined under the title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”  

"While the White House may think this is politics as usual, what is spectacularly unusual is when a candidate, a U.S. congressman no less, freely acknowledges such a proposal,” Issa wrote in the letter.  “Almost always candidates keep quiet about such deals, and for good reason: They are against the law."

In the letter, Issa specifically asked for who on the White House staff communicated with Sestak about the 2010 race for the Senate; to identify what position, if any, was offered in exchange for the commitment to not run; “what if any investigation did your office undertake to determine whether the criminal activity described by Rep. Sestak occurred?”; and, “Do you expect to make a referral to the United States Department of Justice in this matter?”

Gibbs has declined to answer questions from reporters on the matter for the past two weeks.

Fox News reporter Major Garrett asked on Thursday, “One other thing, because last Tuesday you told us, ‘I don't have the update with me on Sestak.’ Two things have happened since then.  Two things have happened.”

Gibbs jumped in, “I don't have any--”

Garrett said, “Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House Counsel –”

Gibbs again interrupted, “I don't have anything additional on that.”

Garrett asked, “Are you ever going to have anything additional on that?”

Gibbs responded, “I don't have it today."