Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak, fresh off his primary win dethroning 30-year incumbent Arlen Specter, may have thought he was entitled to a brief honeymoon.
Instead, he has been ravaged by a firestorm for the last week. Sestak is not only facing a major threat to his political career, but also the possibility of being on a police blotter.
Being subpoenaed and facing possible criminal charges are not exactly the best ways to start a general election campaign.
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It was no secret that the President was backing Specter after the incumbent switched parties and voted for all of Obama’s crucial initiatives, and the President committed himself to Specter’s re-election. (Of course, that was before Obama abandoned Specter in the final weeks of the campaign after seeing the poll numbers go the wrong way.)
The cauldron in which Sestak finds himself stems from his statement earlier this year that the White House offered him a high-level job in exchange for abandoning the Senate race. Based on Sestak’s own words, this is a quid pro quo — a "you do something for me, and in return, I’ll give you this" arrangement. Quite simply, you can’t offer somebody a government job in return for receiving anything that could be considered a benefit. And Specter’s re-election would have been a huge benefit to the White House.
So when it comes to this type of quid pro quo, it’s against the law. Period.
But here’s the problem: no one is talking.
According to news reports, the White House originally denied that any conversation ever took place. But now, after the heat started rising, administration officials have changed their story. The President’s spokesman now states that while discussions with Sestak did in fact occur, "nothing inappropriate" transpired. And what assurance are we given that no laws were broken and nothing inappropriate took place?
The White House checked into the matter itself.
Wow. That’s a relief. After all, the Obama folks tout themselves as the most open, transparent and accountable administration in history.
But merely saying "nothing inappropriate" took place just doesn’t pass muster.
Assuming that the offer was made, by definition, someone is lying. Either Sestak made the whole thing up, or the administration’s collective nose is growing at an exponential rate.
If an official attempted to make the deal, that is bribery — a Federal offense. And since Sestak is a U.S. Congressman and a retired admiral with 31 years in the Navy, it’s probably safe to think that he wasn’t offered a secretary position.
Or at least one that involves taking dictation.
Maybe Secretary of the Navy? If so, that’s a position that would clearly need approval at the highest levels of government. So it might be a good idea that whoever made the offer consider buying Soap-On-A-Rope. In bulk.
So much for White House transparency.
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I had the opportunity to interview Congressman Sestak this week during my weekly appearance on the radio show "Political Talk." Holding fast to his script, Sestak refused to say who offered him a job, and what the position was, instead stating that, for his part, he has been honest in answering the job-offer question. He then deflects follow-up questions with vague answers that anything more is "for others to talk about," and that he wants to talk about issues affecting Pennsylvanians.
This oft-repeated response makes it seem that Sestak is absolved of any wrongdoing, and that all that is required of him is to verify that the quid pro quo offer was made.
First, the longer he stalls on coming clean with what really happened — the names, dates and details involved — the quicker his political career implodes. Being embroiled in a controversy that simply won’t go away is not a good way to win elected office.
But infinitely more important, Sestak has, perhaps unwittingly, backed himself into potential legal trouble, as criminal liability in this case is a very real possibility.
Obstruction of justice? Aiding and abetting? Failure to report a crime? Conspiracy?
Could he be charged with these serious offenses? Time will tell, but that may depend on how thorough an independent investigation is performed, if one is done at all.
Why does it seem that the only way people tell the truth anymore is with a subpoena?
And at this point, no matter what is forthcoming by either side, an investigation must take place. Failure to do so will only result in a higher level of people’s mistrust of government. David Axelrod, Senior White House Adviser, denied that a job offer took place, but added that if it did, such an action would be a "serious breach of the law."
But on the radio show, Sestak said that this type of issue isn’t what concerns Pennsylvanians. Rather, they are interested in how government is going to solve their problems.
At best, that answer is at least half wrong.
More than ever, Americans are looking for leaders who provide accountability, transparency and conviction — people who will make the tough decisions to get the nation back on track, political repercussions be damned. Sidestepping a public corruption scandal that may reach the very highest levels of government, and one in which he’s the most critical figure, is an indication that Sestak is not that type of leader.
For the sake of good government and his own integrity, Joe Sestak needs to come clean now, tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may.
Anything less is unacceptable.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe." Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances. He can be reached at [email protected]