Majority Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee today blocked one avenue of inquiry into the White House’s attempt to secure victory for two incumbent Senate candidates by offering a job to their chief opponent in exchange for exiting the race.
“Any high ground of transparency and accountability that House Democrats once claimed to stand on has been surrendered,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said today. “For all the talk, and it is talk, about living up to a higher standard of conduct and disclosure, time and again, the Democratic majority takes the path of least resistance and political expediency instead of fulfilling the American people’s right to know the truth about unethical and possibly criminal conduct.”
Issa’s comments came after the resolution of inquiry was defeated in a 15-12 vote.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had filed a resolution that sought information about the role the Justice Department may have played in the offers to Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., and Andrew Romanoff, the former speaker of the Colorado House.
Issa also has sent letters to William F. Reukauf, associate special counsel in the Hatch Act Unit of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, asking for an investigation of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina, a deputy, who allegedly made the offers to Sestak and Romanoff.
“Ultimately, House Democrats will have to convince the American people that their standard of secrecy, backroom deals and preservation of the status quo without a check-and-balance is the best governing vision moving forward,” Issa said.
Federal officials are barred from offering anything of value, such as a job, in exchange for a partisan political decision, such as bowing out of a campaign for office.
Issa’s investigation requests were followed by similar requests by Judicial Watch, a nonpartisan public-interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption.
The allegations are that Emanuel and Messina tried to interfere in Senate primaries in Pennsylvania and Colorado by offering federal jobs to Sestak and Romanoff to clear the field for Sens. Arlen Specter and Michael Bennet.
Issa noted Emanuel had told a television interviewer there is “nothing more that’s needed” to disclose about dispatching former President Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an unpaid position he could not accept in return for his withdrawal from the primary against Specter.
“If they have nothing to hide and did nothing wrong, there is no reason why the White House or House Democrats should not welcome the full release of information collected in the White House’s investigation of itself so they can clear the air once and for all,” Issa challenged before the vote.
The White House earlier released a statement that it had investigated allegations officials there acted improperly and found nothing wrong.
“The very memo Rahm Emanuel says exonerates the White House only served to raise additional questions regarding the White House’s role in pressuring Adm. Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Senate primary,” said Issa.
The resolution asked for “copies of certain communications relating to certain recommendations regarding administration appointments.”
It sought “any guidance or recommendations made by the Department … regarding discussions of administration appointments by White House staff, or persons acting on behalf of White House staff, with any candidate for public office in exchange for such candidate’s withdrawal from any election.”
“Top Obama White House officials attempted to manipulate federal elections in at least two states, which is a clear violation of the law,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “An investigation by the Office of Special Counsel is a first step.
“It is an absolute disgrace that Attorney General [Eric] Holder has not appointed a special counsel to investigate these scandals. And the fact that Congress is largely silent on this serious Obama scandal is one more reason why the public holds it in such low esteem,” he said when his organization stepped into the dispute.
Sestak said the White House job offer came last July as he was preparing to formally announce his Senate candidacy in August.
Sestak’s account “is prima facie evidence that an individual in the White House violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election,” Issa asserted in his letter demanding an investigation.
Further, the facts later were confirmed by the White House, Issa charged.
A letter from a White House attorney said the congressman “publicly and accurately stated” that “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.”
“The Hatch Act prohibition on using official authority or influence for the purpose of affecting the result of an election extends to the White House chief of staff,” Issa said at the time. “Only the president and vice president are exempted. … The Hatch Act covers all officials of the executive agencies and departments, even agency and department heads appointed by the president with advice and consent of the Senate, as well as all officials, staff and aides in the offices of the president and vice president.”
Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely, who retired as deputy commanding general for the Pacific, has called on Obama to resign, at least partly because of the job offers.
“We can wait no longer for a traditional change of power and new government,” he said.