When you take a bunch of sucker-punching, brass knuckle wearing thugs & hoodlums from a political sewer in which you have to get filthy in order to even exist, not to mention survive or thrive and you put them all on a huge National stage and in charge of running the entire country, then what you get is what we’ve been seeing for the last 18 months: bribes, legislating against the will of the majority of people, quid-pro-quo style kickbacks, and brutal strong-arm tactics against all critics and even some of their own that one would expect from a mob enforcer or loan shark, not congresspersons & Cabinet members who are supposed to be gentlemen, and ladies.
by Kim Strassel
The White House’s real mistake was thinking it could practice such tactics as brazenly on the big stage as in the Windy City.
For those wondering what it would look like when the White House’s Chicago politics finally hit a Washington wall, the answer is Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff. A patronage-politics mentality brought the Obama team to this pass, and a shifty cleanup effort threatens to turn it into a political scandal.
It took the eve of a holiday weekend for the White House to finally offer its version of its dealings with Rep. Sestak. A bland, two-page report explained how Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had enlisted former President Bill Clinton to offer Mr. Sestak a job on a presidential board in return for bowing out of a primary election against Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
The report came only after weeks of America’s “most open and transparent administration in history” stonewalling about last summer’s Sestak job offer. And the report was made public only after the equally transparent Department of Justice declined to name a special counsel to investigate.
But never mind all that, said White House Counsel Robert Bauer, the report’s author. The Sestak discussions were “fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.” Trust him. He’s a lawyer.
Last September the Denver Post ran a story in which unnamed sources claimed Mr. Emanuel’s deputy, Jim Messina, had floated jobs by Andrew Romanoff, to discourage a primary challenge against Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. The White House denied it. The Denver Post’s editorial page now says it last year asked Mr. Romanoff about the offer, and he too “unequivocally” denied it.
Mr. Romanoff was equally unequivocal this week when he cracked under pressure to say the exact opposite. He admitted Mr. Messina had indeed “suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race.” He even released a Messina email that detailed the three jobs—posts at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as director of the U.S. Trade and Development agency.
This inspired the White House yesterday to issue an extraordinary statement claiming Mr. Messina had simply been following up on interest Mr. Romanoff had once expressed in USAID. Yes, the Senate race came up, but there was “no offer of a job.” No answer as to why Mr. Messina, calling about USAID, felt compelled to email a description of a position at U.S. Trade and Development.
Political jobs-for-favors are, of course, as old as politics itself. The White House’s real mistake was thinking it could practice such tactics as brazenly on the big stage as in the Windy City.
No phrase is more feared in Washington than “quid pro quo,” and Beltway politicians carefully avoid any hint of it. There are winks and nods, yes. But you’d have to be crazy to put something in an email. Crazy, or from Chicago, where it is simply understood that the political machine decides elections and hands out consolation prizes accordingly.
The White House’s other mistake was thinking Washington pols would follow Chicago rules. It is one thing to make deals with the local ward boss, who knows his livelihood depends on keeping his mouth shut. It is another to make offers to a Pennsylvania congressman who is angry that you are fighting him in the primary, and who views the U.S. Senate as way cooler than an advisory board. Mr. Sestak viewed it in his interest to blab, and he did. And he won.
The White House’s initial refusal to talk only fed the story. And Mr. Bauer’s too-late, too-clever Sestak memo has created new problems. According to this counsel, the Sestak talk was aboveboard because it wasn’t the White House, but Bill Clinton, doing it. Moreover, Mr. Sestak had simply been offered an “uncompensated” board position that was “additional service” to his current House job. By this reasoning, it is presumably not aboveboard when it was Mr. Messina talking to Mr. Romanoff, offering him a compensated, full-time job.
Legal experts note it would be difficult to bring charges under the criminal statute that makes it illegal to offer a federal position in exchange for political activity. That requires solid proof of a quid pro quo, always a tough standard. Yet as Scott Coffina, associate counsel to George W. Bush, has noted, the White House may have blundered into a separate charge.
“The Hatch Act,” writes Mr. Coffina in National Review Online, “makes it illegal for a federal employee to use his official position or authority to interfere with or affect the result of an election.” He notes that among Mr. Bauer’s justifications for the Sestak talk was that Democrats had a “legitimate interest” in avoiding a primary. “Advancing the interests of a political party is not a ‘legitimate’ use of one’s official government position,” says Mr. Coffina, yet Mr. Bauer is on record saying that was the goal.
Let it be noted that every scrap of information that has come out in this affair has been gleaned by a dogged press corps. Congressional Democrats—they of Bush-investigatory fame—have refused to open any inquiry into the issue. Yet the White House’s actions throughout have guaranteed the questions will keep coming. It isn’t clear there are any good Chicago tactics to fix this one.