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White House whitewash

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich goes on trial this week for allegedly attempting to sell his appointment to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. As for the Obama Administration’s failed deal to barter a federal appointment in exchange for U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) staying out of the race against Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), no trial date has been set.

In fact, no charges have been filed. No serious investigation has even been launched.

Rush Limbaugh

But a crime may indeed have been committed.

Months after Rep. Sestak charged that such a deal was offered — that is, once Sestak had won the Democratic nomination — the media turned from its usual task of fluffing pillows and began to ask questions.

The White House had initially denied the charge, but since Sestak’s February admission both the administration and the representative had clammed up, giving themselves ample time to get their story straight. Now, three months later, White House Counsel Robert F. Bauer explains that yes, a deal had indeed been proffered by none other than former President Bill Clinton, and at the specific request of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

President Obama, when grilled at a press conference earlier this week, declined to tell the story himself. Instead, he burbled the same sort of strange blather as his erstwhile press secretary, Robert Gibbs, namely, “I can assure the public that nothing improper took place.”

If he could assure us that much, why couldn’t Mr. Obama simply tell the press and the people the truth?

Why? you ask. Heavens! There might have been follow-up questions.

Instead, after a two-page legal memorandum from the White House counsel, the Washington Post has already pooh-poohed any further inquiry into the matter, writing in yesterday’s editorial, “OKAY, if all the facts are out, then we would agree: Nothing inappropriate happened. . . . this is not a scandal. Not a crime. Not even into an ethical gray zone.”

Golly, aren’t you glad that’s wrapped up? Maybe the Nobel Committee should come up with a new prize for the Obama team, for not committing a crime.

Unless, of course, you bother to read the White House memorandum as well as the law in question.

There are two federal statutes at issue. One states it is a crime if someone “directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or any other benefit . . . 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.” The other makes it illegal for a government official to use “his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate.”

Mr. Bauer’s memo is not only not a serious legal defense of the actions of this White House, it amounts to an admission of guilt.

A deal is not denied: “We found that, as the Congressman has publicly and accurately stated, options for Executive Branch service were raised with him. Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary. . . .”

Though the law specifically forbids promises of an “appointment,” Obama’s lawyer hangs his hat on the fact that the dangled positions would be unpaid, writing, “The advisory positions discussed with Congressman Sestak, while important to the work of the Administration, would have been uncompensated.”

Further, even as the law bans such actions whether taken “directly or indirectly,” Bauer hides behind the fact that, “White House staff did not discuss these options with Congressman Sestak. The White House Chief of Staff enlisted the support of former President Clinton who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board.”

The memorandum concludes on a high note by arguing that everybody else in Washington breaks the law, too. “There have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations — both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals — discussed alternative paths to service for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office.”

Political insiders and longtime scribes in Washington dismiss this controversy as a tempest in a teapot, as nothing more than the way politics works. This reaction alone provides a very clear indication of how demented politics has become. Putting political advance ahead of the public trust, placing people in government positions by cronyism and political deals rather than merit —standard operating procedure. This is acceptable? Excusable?

The Obama Administration has lost its last dollop of perfume, now claiming its stench no more pungent than prior administrations’.

But what about Rep. Sestak? When he divulged the shady offer, he used it effectively to show he was independent and not susceptible to being bullied or bribed. But why did he clam up?

The answer seems obvious: He knew it would cause problems for the White House and his party. Independence? Oops!

Sestak gave up his campaign theme when he chose to align his political fortunes with his party’s, putting political standing above the public’s right to know.

That’s the clear message in all this. Whatever extent Obama and Sestak remain committed to serving the public, it takes a distant back-seat to their first priority, the maintenance of their political power.

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