A scandal that erupted for Barack Obama in the run-up to the 2010 elections, when his administration was frantically trying to stave off the advance of tea-party candidates who eventually gave control of the U.S. House to the GOP, is back in the news.
It centers on allegations that then-White House staffers Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina tried to use their official positions to influence at least two congressional elections.
Judicial Watch released word Thursday that it filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to obtain government records regarding a June 15, 2010, request for an investigation into actions by Emanuel, now Chicago’s mayor, and Messina.
Using a government position to influence an election could be a criminal violation of the Hatch Act, Judicial Watch said.
The organization alleges that in 2009, Emanuel, then White House chief of staff, and Messina, then deputy chief of staff, “on behalf of the Obama administration” used their positions “to affect the outcome of federal elections.”
Federal law says a federal employee may not “use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affect the result of an election.”
The alleged undue influence took place in the re-election campaigns of Rep. Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado.
The inquiry was sparked when Sestak told CNN in May 2009 that he was going to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic primary, a contest he eventually won.
According to Judicial Watch, White House Counsel Robert Bauer admitted the administration’s intense interest in the race.
He wrote in a White House memo that “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.”
Even former President Bill Clinton was called in to raise the possibility of executive branch positions for Sestak, the report said.
In Colorado, a state lawmaker, Andrew Romanoff, planned to go up against Bennet in a primary. But according to the Associated Press, Messina allegedly called Romanoff to suggest his time would be better spent working for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Romanoff himself released an email from Messina that listed three positions that “would be available” should Romanoff suddenly change his mind about the Senate primary, which Bennet eventually won.
But Emanual became Chicago’s mayor and Messina went to work for Democratic interests, and so Carolyn Lerner, from the OSC office, announced the complaints were closed.
Judicial Watch’s complaint notes that the government failed to “take any action” during the time when Emanuel and Messina were government employees. It also questioned whether the Obama aides should get a pass on an investigation just because they changed jobs.
“It is shameful that the Office of Special Counsel, which is supposed to enforce corruption and transparency laws, is covering up this Obama bribery scandal,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is corrupt and illegal to offer federal jobs to help political campaigns as the Obama White House did (with the help of the ethically challenged Bill Clinton).”
WND reported at the time the case developed that there also were allegations the White House employees not only offered the jobs but also colluded and conspired on a story to cover up their actions.
At that point, Judicial Watch filed a congressional ethics complaint targeting Sestak after the Democrat confirmed he was offered a post.
Sestak had said publicly he was offered the job if he would agree to withdraw from a Senate primary campaign against Specter. Sestak stated he declined the offer and subsequently won the nomination.
But Judicial Watch’s complaint said Sestak changed his story after he consulted the White House.
The ethics complaint said: “The record of statements made to the media suggests that Congressman Sestak and Obama White House officials conspired to cover up the facts of a job offer made to Congressman Sestak in an effort to avoid criminal sanctions for violation of the Hatch Act and other federal laws. And by so doing they may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy.”
Democrats who at that time were the majority in the U.S. House used a Judiciary Committee vote to block a resolution of inquiry into the case.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., had asked for the move because 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.
At the time, the White House released a statement that it had investigated allegations officials there acted improperly and found nothing wrong.