When does a political deal become a bribe?
At the 1952 Republican National Convention, California's favorite son, Gov. Earl Warren, released his delegation reportedly in return for Ike's promise that he would give Warren the first open seat on the Supreme Court.
In September 1953, Chief Justice Fred Vinson dropped dead of a heart attack. As they say, the rest is history.
In 1824, Andrew Jackson won a plurality of both the popular and electoral votes, but not a majority. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams came in second; Speaker of the House Henry Clay fourth.
Between Jackson and Clay, however, there was a great hate. When Gen. Jackson had gone rogue in Florida, hanging two British subjects for aiding renegade Indians and packing the Spanish governor onto a boat to Havana, almost igniting war with Spain and Britain, Clay had charged Jackson with Caesarism.
The general told friends that when Congress adjourned, he was going to challenge Clay to a duel and kill the speaker of the House.
With no majority in the Electoral College, the contest went to the House. There, Speaker Clay persuaded supporters to back Adams, who emerged with a 13-7 victory among state congressional delegations.
Jackson's supporters were doubly enraged when Adams named as his secretary of state -- stepping stone to the presidency for Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Adams himself -- Henry Clay.
"Corrupt bargain!" went the cry. No investigation was held, but a disgusted nation would give Jackson two terms as president and deny Clay his life's ambition in all three of his runs.
At his death in 1845, Jackson reportedly told friends he had but two regrets -- that he had not "hanged (John) Calhoun and shot Clay."
Which brings us to Rep. Joe Sestak's claim that he was offered an administration job if he would abandon his race against Sen. Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania. Reportedly, the job offered to the retired admiral was secretary of the navy.
On May 18, Sestak won that primary, and his charge that he was proffered a White House bribe, or deal, went viral.
So, today, Joe has a problem. And so does the White House.
For if Sestak was offered a high post in the administration to abandon his challenge to a U.S. senator endorsed by Obama, this would seem on its face a criminal violation of federal law.
All seven Senate Republicans on the judiciary committee have written Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an independent counsel to investigate the alleged bribe. They cite 18 U.S. Code Section 600, which forbids the offer of any government job "as consideration, favor or reward for any political activity" or "in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office."
If Sestak was offered a high government post to get out of the Pennsylvania race, it would appear an open-and-shut case that a felony was committed by someone high in the White House.
When CNN's John King suggested that such an offer "marches up into the gray area, perhaps the red area of a felony, it is a felony to induce somebody by offering them a job," White House adviser David Axelrod did not disagree with King: "If such things happened, they would constitute a serious breach of the law."
However, Axelrod assured King, "when the allegations were looked into, there is no evidence of such a thing."
And who looked into the allegation that a bribe was offered to Sestak and found "no evidence" of White House wrongdoing?
The White House counsel's office.
Sorry, but this will not do. For when White House Counsel John Dean investigated the staff role in Watergate for President Nixon, he, too, found them all innocent.
Nor is this a trivial matter. For if the offer was made by a White House staffer and involved the post of secretary of the navy, serious questions arise for all involved.
Why did not Sestak, a congressman and admiral, report it? Has he not taken an oath to uphold the law?
Second, who made the offer? For any offer of secretary of the navy cannot credibly be made without the complicity or approval of the president, Barack Obama, who alone can nominate to that position.
Third, who in the White House counsel's office conducted this investigation? And, as it does not involve confidential legal advice to the president, but the determination of a possible felony, we have a right to know what the White House counsel's office was told, and by whom. Was President Obama interviewed?
Holder should immediately alert the White House counsel's office to gather and preserve all files, records of interrogations and e-mails related to an investigation that exonerated, or perhaps whitewashed, the White House.
Before voters go to the polls, especially before they choose a senator in Pennsylvania, this smelly deal needs to be aired out.
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