The Sestak Affair

By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

Members of congress demand criminal probe

“This is punishable by prison. This is a felony.” – Rep. Darrell Issa

Joe Sestak

29 May 2010: Due to the recent equivocations from the Obama White House and the apparent unwillingness by the mainstream media to investigate this matter, the majority of Americans are unaware of the seriousness of the Obama administration’s alleged actions involving Joseph Sestak.  If proven, the reported actions of the Obama administration are clear violations of three federal laws[i].  The impact and fallout from documented violations, as well as the refusal of the Holder Justice Department to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate this matter, have the potential to eclipse the Watergate scandal of the early 1970’s – it is that serious.

The crime

In an attempt to retain as much political control over Congress during the 2010 midterm elections, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dispatched William Clinton and lawyer Doug Band to meet with senatorial candidate Joseph Sestak who was running against Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. In exchange for dropping out of the race, Sestak was offered a position with the administration. It was reasoned that should Sestak accept, Specter would be unopposed in the primary and have a much better chance of retaining his senatorial seat. The meetings reportedly took place in June and July of last year.

Based on open source reports stemming back to February, it is apparent that Sestak had no idea that such overtures are illegal as he readily admitted the meeting and job offer in a February 18, 2010 interview with Philadelphia TV newscaster Larry Kane (documented here).

The overture made to Joseph Sestak is not the first time the Obama administration attempted to alter this year’s Senate races by promising employment to opponents posing serious challenges to Obama allies. It is, however, garnering the most attention. The first known incident involves Andrew Romanoff, a Democratic challenger from Colorado running against Senator Michael Bennet. The Obama administration offered Romanoff a position in the administration if he canceled plans to run for the Democratic nomination against incumbent Senator Bennet as detailed in this Denver Post article dated September 27, 2009. As in all cases involving possible criminal activity, such documented multiple instances show a continuing course of conduct and intent.

The cover-up

Recalling the days of Watergate, it is important to understand that it was obstruction of justice charges that ultimately brought down the Nixon administration. Obstruction of justice can take on different forms, including but not limited to obfuscations, equivocations, denials, as well as lack of cooperation with investigative bodies. So far, the White House has failed to cooperate or provide any specific answers to questions posed by lawmakers. The Holder Justice Department has also declined to investigate.

The Timeline

June/July 2009: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dispatched William Clinton and lawyer Doug Band to meet with senatorial candidate Joseph Sestak who was running against Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. In exchange for dropping out of the race, Sestak was offered a position with the administration. It was reasoned that should Sestak accept, Specter would be unopposed in the primary and have a much better chance of retaining his senatorial seat.

February 18, 2010: Sestak interviewed by Philadelphia, PA TV newscaster Larry Kane, admits job offer by White House in exchange for dropping out of Senate race.

March 10, 2010: Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sends letter to White House Counsel Robert Bauer to inquire about the details of the Sestak matter. Specific questions included:  (1) who on the White House staff communicated with Sestak about the 2010 race for the Senate; (2) what position, if any, was offered in exchange for the commitment to not run; (3) what, if any investigation did your office undertake to determine whether the criminal activity described by Rep. Sestak occurred?; and (4) Do you expect to make a referral to the United States Department of Justice in this matter? Rep. Issa issued a March 18, 2010 deadline for a reply.

March 16, 2010: Under pressure from reporters, White House Press Secretary issues the following statement during a press conference: “I’ve talked to several people in the White House. I’ve talked to people who have talked to others in the White House.”  I’m told that whatever conversations have been had, are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that this is – whatever happened is in the past and he is focused on this primary.”

March 18, 2010: No response from the White House counsel.

March 22, 2010: Second request sent, with advisory that that if no satisfactory answers from the White House were forthcoming, Rep. Issa would ask Holder to appoint a special prosecutor; Bauer was also asked for more information about who Gibbs spoke with in the White House about this matter. A deadline set for April 5, 2010

April 5, 2010: No response from White House. It was during a press conference that CNS News asked Gibbs if the White House would support a special prosecutor investigating the issue, citing the deadline of April 5.  Gibbs did not answer the question, instead referred to his March 16, 2010 comment.

May 18, 2010: Pennsylvania primary; Specter defeated.

May 26, 2010: Seven republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee requested the Holder Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to probe the allegations (Letter – PDF format).

May 28, 2010: Letter from 14 Congressmen to FBI Director Robert Mueller requesting FBI probe of criminal conduct. Official White House memo released.


[i] 18 U.S.C. § 600: Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party in connection with any general or special election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

18 U.S.C. § 211: Whoever solicits or receives, either as a political contribution, or for personal emolument, any money or thing of value, in consideration of the promise of support or use of influence in obtaining for any person any appointive office or place under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. Whoever solicits or receives anything of value in consideration of aiding a person to obtain employment under the United States either by referring his name to an executive department or agency of the United States or by requiring the payment of a fee because such person has secured such employment shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than one year, or both. This section shall not apply to such services rendered by an employment agency pursuant to the written request of an executive department or agency of the United States.

18 U.S.C. § 595: Whoever, being a person employed in any administrative position by the United States, or by any department or agency thereof, or by the District of Columbia or any agency or instrumentality thereof, or by any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States, or any political subdivision, municipality, or agency thereof, or agency of such political subdivision or municipality (including any corporation owned or controlled by any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States or by any such political subdivision, municipality, or agency), in connection with any activity which is financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States, or any department or agency thereof, 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 from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.