Basically: the notion that the White House offered Rep. Joe Sestak the job of Secretary of the Navy is false. The President had already nominated Ray Mabus for the job BEFORE Arlen Specter switched parties.
The White House, legitimately seeking to avoid a divisive primary, asked President Clinton to see if Sestak was serious about running. The White House wanted to try and offer Sestak an uncompensated advisory board position that would allow him to retain his House seat and use his years of public service to benefit himself and the country. But when Clinton reported back that Sestak was serious about running for Senate, the White House did not offer him any position. Sestak would not have been compensated for the position.
Additionally, as the White House knows, such practices are routine and, according to the White House, they do not in any violate the spirit or the letter of the law.
It is hard to see, quite frankly, how this account implies any violation of criminal law, and how any law that governs the intersection of the executive branch and electoral politics would intend to criminalize routine and innocuous political horse-trading, especially since the President is dual-hatted, in our system, as the leader of his political party. Bribery is bribery, but the facts here, assuming you believe them, and I do tend to believe them, are exculpatory.
If Rep. Sestak differs in his recollection, then the story will continue to be a story. If not, it won't be.
Here's what Richard Painter, the chief ethics law for President George W. Bush, had to say about the allegations BEFORE the White House released its memo:
The Hatch Act prohibits a federal employee from being a candidate for nomination or election to a partisan political office. He had to choose one or the other, but he could not choose both. The job offer may have been a way of getting Sestak out of Specter's way, but this also is nothing new. Many candidates for top Administration appointments are politically active in the President's political party. Many are candidates or are considering candidacy in primaries. White House political operatives don't like contentious fights in their own party primaries and sometimes suggest jobs in the Administration for persons who otherwise would be contenders. For the White House, this is usually a 'win-win' situation, giving the Administration politically savvy appointees in the Executive Branch and fewer contentious primaries for the Legislative Branch. This may not be best for voters who have less choice as a result, and Sestak thus should be commended for saying 'no'. The job offer, however, is hardly a 'bribe' when it is one of two alternatives that are mutually exclusive.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.