Today all seven Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging Holder to appoint a special investigator to probe Rep. Joe Sestak’s allegations against the White House.
Last February, Sestak said the Obama White House offered him a high-ranking government job if Sestak would refrain from challenging Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Sestak declined and last week won the Democratic nomination. Sestak has repeated his charge on several occasions but refuses to say who at the White House offered the job or what was said. The White House says nothing improper happened but has offered no details.
“The allegations in this matter are very serious and, if true, suggest a possible violation of various federal criminal laws intended to safeguard our political process from the taint of bribes and political machine manipulation,” the GOP senators say in the letter to Holder. “The White House cannot possibly manage an internal investigation of potential criminal misconduct while simultaneously crafting a public narrative to rebut the claim that misconduct occurred.”
The senators point to a statement made this week by top White House adviser David Axelrod who, while denying that anything inappropriate took place, conceded that if Sestak’s claims were true, it would be “a serious breach of the law.” Turning Axelrod’s words against the administration, the senators write, “We do not believe the Department of Justice can properly defer to White House lawyers to investigate a matter that could involve a ’serious breach of the law.’”
The GOP lawmakers point out that there is plenty of precedent for an investigation. “Such an action would square with the department’s appointment of Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate suspected White House misconduct in the Plame matter in 2003,” the senators write. If the Justice Department rejects a special prosecutor, as an alternative the senators suggest referring the matter to the Department’s Public Integrity Section or to the U.S. Attorney in Washington.
The first reaction of most observers is that, barring some new revelations, there is little or no chance the GOP senators will get their way. Holder has already rejected one such request from Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, and in the Senate, the Democrats who control the Judiciary Committee are not calling for an investigation. With Democrats in control of the White House, the House and the Senate, the president and attorney general don’t have to do anything. On the other hand, Republicans controlled the White House, House and Senate at the time of the Plame affair, and a Republican attorney general appointed Fitzgerald. But that only happened after a media firestorm over the CIA leak matter, and there has been no such storm over Sestak. Without a public outcry, and with Democrats controlling all the levers of power, Holder and Obama are free to deny all investigation requests from Republicans.