Examiner Editorial: Special prosecutor needed in Sestak affair 

Should top-ranking government jobs be bought, sold or traded? Should they be offered as inducements to get candidates into or out of particular political races important to a president?

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, the ranking minority member of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, says no. So does federal law. After a month of the White House refusing to give its side of the story about an alleged dirty deal for a high-ranking post, Issa is threatening to call for a special prosecutor to investigate.

On Feb. 18, Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., revealed that somebody in the White House offered him such a post if he would in return drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Given several chances to recant his story, Sestak has instead repeatedly confirmed it. He has declined, however, to specify who made the offer and which job it was. Specter spoke out on the Sestak affair two weeks ago, suggesting that Sestak name names or else pipe down. “I’m telling you it is a federal crime punishable by jail,” Specter said. “And anybody who wants to say that ought to back it up.”

But the allegation ought to be taken seriously because it fits a pattern of White House behavior. Last September, The Denver Post reported that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina offered a U.S. foreign aid job to Colorado Speaker Andrew Romanoff. The offer was meant as an inducement to make him drop his Senate primary challenge against incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. Issa has tried to give the White House a chance to tell its side of the story. In a March 10 letter to White House counsel Bob Bauer, Issa asked whether Messina or his boss, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, made Sestak any such offer. To date, no answer has been offered from anybody in the White House.

After weeks of dodging questions about Sestak from members of the White House press corps, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs finally offered this nonresponse: “I’m told that whatever conversations have been had are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that this is — whatever happened is in the past, and he’s focused on his primary election.”

But the question of whether it’s “in the past” is not for Gibbs or Sestak to decide. It’s a matter of criminal law. If the White House remains silent until April 5, Issa will call on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor. Given the very public evidence that a crime may have occurred, Holder should consider himself duty-bound to do so.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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