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Joe Sestak, who recently defeated sitting Senator Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic senatorial primary, had suggested in February that the White House offered him an administration job to drop out of the race. The White House had backed Specter in the primary race over Sestak. White House officials have insisted, "nothing inappropriate happened." What exactly is going on here and why does it matter?

  • Could It Count as Bribery?  The Washington Post implies that, if the White House made an offer, it could constitute bribery. "High-handed, conclusory assurances from the White House are not enough to satisfy legitimate questions about the episode. Mr. Sestak has said for months -- and he repeated this weekend -- that the White House offered him a job if he would stay out of the primary race against Mr. Specter. ... Government jobs aren't mere baubles the administration may dangle in front of those it would like to distract from other pursuits. ... Would it be illegal? Mr. Specter said so, but ethics laws do not seem designed for this circumstance. Ordinarily, bribery takes place in the opposite direction."
  • Conservatives Consider 'Impeachable Offense'  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen writes, "Republicans seized on the claim as potentially scandalous. As foolish as this may be, the GOP is genuinely excited about this. Karl Rove told Fox News last night that the job offer may have been illegal, because the law 'prohibits a federal official from interfering -- a government employee -- with the nomination or election for office.' Fox News' Fox & Friends openly speculated this morning -- without a hint of humor -- about whether the job offer may have been an 'impeachable offense.'"
  • An Incredibly Common Practice  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote in March when the scandal first began, "Now, trading an administration job -- a thing of value -- for a political favor might well constitute bribery. It is also very common. A Nexus search turns up numerous examples." He begins with the Reagan White House openly offering a Senator a job to keep him from running, and provides more examples from there. "Numerous press accounts testify to its ubiquity in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. No special prosecutor was ever appointed in those cases; no one was ever punished."
  • Unseemly, But No Crime  Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington director Melanie Sloan says, "People offer members of Congress things all the time. ... I don't think there is any issue. I don't see the crime." She adds, "A quid pro quo has to offer something of value in exchange for something. ... If you agree not to run for the Senate and we'll make you secretary of the Navy - that offers no monetary value. It's just the unseemly side of politics."
  • Sestak Must Come Clean  Number-two Democrat in the Senate Dick Durban insists, "At some point I thing Congressman Sestak needs to make it clear what happened. ... Congressman Sestak raised the issue. If there's been some confusion, I hope he can make the facts as clear as possible. Then, as far as the administration is concerned, they will react to that."
  • Why He Wasn't Offered Navy Job  Many have speculated that Sestak, a former Admiral, was offered Secretary of the Navy. But the Washington Post's David Weigel argues "that would have been impossible. On March 27, 2009, the administration nominated Ray Mabus as secretary of the Navy. It wasn't until April 28 that Specter became a Democrat, and by Sestak's own recollection, he was literally being courted to run the day that news broke."
  • The 'Politicization' Charge  The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews isn't convinced. "It's a political appointment; its tainting by the Senate confirmation process prevents a process based purely on finding the best person for the job, so it's not as though the White House was corrupting a fair process by considering electoral politics. More to the point, this politicization is only a problem if it results in cronies, or otherwise unqualified people, taking important positions. It's hard to imagine this being the case with any position Sestak would have been appointed to fill."


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