Fox News' Dick Morris' baselessly claimed that an alleged job offer by the Obama administration to Rep. Joe Sestak would constitute an "impeachable offense." However, the Reagan administration reportedly made a similar offer to a candidate, and legal experts have rejected the claims that such offers are illegal.
Morris baselessly claims alleged job offer was "clearly a violation of law"
Morris: "Joe Sestak is either lying or the White House committed a crime." During an appearance on Sean Hannity's Fox News show, Morris baselessly claimed: "It is illegal to offer someone anything of importance or of value in return for a vote or a running or not running for office. Illegal." He added: "This is a straight prohibition against offering anything of value. Clearly a violation of law." Morris went on to say: "This scandal could be enormous. It's Valerie Plame, only 10 times bigger because it's illegal. And Joe Sestak is either lying or the White House committed a crime. He can't have it both ways." [Hannity, 5/24/10]
Morris and Hannity agree offer is "an impeachable offense." After Morris said that the offer might be "a high crime and misdemeanor," Hannity asked: "That would be -- in other words -- an impeachable offense." Morris replied "Absolutely." [Hannity, 5/24/10]
Reagan administration reportedly offered job for candidate to step down
Reagan adviser reportedly offered CA senator a job with the administration "if he decided not to seek re-election." A November 25, 1981, Associated Press article (from the Nexis database) reported that President Reagan's political adviser Ed Rollins planned to offer former California Sen. S.I. Hayakawa a job in the administration in exchange for not seeking re-election.
From the AP article:
Sen. S.I. Hayakawa on Wednesday spurned a Reagan administration suggestion that if he drops out of the crowded Republican Senate primary race in California, President Reagan would find him a job.
"I'm not interested," said the 75-year-old Hayakawa.
"I do not want to be an ambassador, and I do not want an administration post."
In an interview earlier this week, Ed Rollins, who will become the president's chief political adviser in January, said Hayakawa would be offered an administration post if he decided not to seek re-election. No offer has been made directly to Hayakawa, Rollins said.
Similarly, Hayakawa said in a statement, "I have not contacted the White House in regard to any administration or ambassadorial post, and they have not been in contact with me."
AP: "Ethics attorneys in Washington said such offers are common." A February 19 Associated Press article reported: "Ethics attorneys in Washington said such offers are common. Melanie Sloan, director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, described it as 'politics as usual.' "
Wash. Post: "This would hardly be the first administration" to offer a job to "clear the field." A May 25 Washington Post editorial critical of the Obama administration's response stated: "At the same time, of course, political considerations play a role in political appointments. This would hardly be the first administration to use appointments to try to clear the field for a favored candidate."
Legal experts dispute claims that a crime was committed
Bush ethics lawyer calls claim that a job offer is a bribe "difficult to support." In a post on the Legal Ethics Forum blog, former Bush administration chief ethics lawyer Richard Painter wrote: "The allegation that the job offer was somehow a 'bribe' in return for Sestak not running in the primary is difficult to support." Painter also wrote:
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.
Painter: "[D]ifficult to envision applying" bribery statute to Sestak job offer. In a subsequent blog post replying to a call by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate possible criminal charges, Painter wrote: "The Administration probably should provide the information needed to clarify what happened, but the bribery statute citied by Congressman Issa is, for reasons explained in my previous post, difficult to envision applying to this situation."
CREW executive director: "I don't see the crime." CNS News reported that Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, commented of the allegations: "I don't see the crime." From the March 24 CNS News article:
"People offer members of Congress things all the time," Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and now the executive director of the liberal government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told CNSNews.com. "I don't think there is any issue. I don't see the crime."
If it is true, such a trade would be an indictment of the system, Sloan of CREW said, but not likely illegal.
"A quid pro quo has to offer something of value in exchange for something," Sloan said. "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."
Wash. Post: "[E]thics laws do not seem designed for this circumstance." In its May 25 editorial, The Washington Post stated: "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: Government officials aren't usually the ones offering something of value. Other statutes prohibit officials from using their power to interfere in an election, or to, directly or indirectly, promise a job as 'reward for any political activity.' But these have been understood to prevent official coercion, not criminalize horse-trading." The editorial continued:
Still, the White House position that everyone should just trust it and go away is unacceptable from any administration; it is especially hypocritical coming from this one. "I'm not going to get further into what the conversations were," Mr. Gibbs said Sunday. "People that have looked into them assure me that they weren't inappropriate in any way." This response would hardly have satisfied those who were upset during the previous administration about the firing of U.S. attorneys. If there was nothing improper, why not all that sunlight Mr. Obama promised?
TPM: "[E]xperts seem to agree that there's no legal wrongdoing -- and very little scandal here." Talking Points Memo's Zachary Roth reported in a May 25 post that "several experts tell TPMmuckraker this is much ado about nothing." Roth went on to report:
That may be fair as far as it goes -- the White House certainly hasn't been falling all over itself to be up front about what happened. But the experts seem to agree that there's no legal wrongdoing -- and very little scandal here.
"People horse trade politically all the time," Stan Brand, a prominent Washington criminal defense lawyer told TPMmuckraker. "So I don't put much stock in this, and I don't think its gonna go anywhere."
Even those who used to prosecute public corruption cases agree. "Talk about criminalizing the political process!" said Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor with the Justice Department's Public Integrity unit. "It would be horrible precedent if what really truly is political horsetrading were viewed in the criminal context of: is this a corrupt bribe?"
And Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who as the head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington isn't known for going on easy public corruption, concurred. "There is no bribery case here," she said. "No statute has ever been used to prosecute anybody for bribery in circumstances like this."
Sloan added that Issa's move was more about politics. "It's not at all about whether there was actual criminal wrongdoing," she said. "It's about how to go after Sestak."