Members of the media -- echoing Republicans -- are freaking out because Rep. Joe Sestak has alleged that he was offered a job by the Obama administration supposedly to convince him to drop out of the Senate race in Pennsylvania. However, at least one legal expert, CREW's Melanie Sloan, has disputed the notion that such an offer would amount to a crime. And the practice certainly isn't unique to the Obama administration.
CNS News reported that Sloan said, "I don't see the crime." From CNS News' report:
"People offer members of Congress things all the time," Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and now the executive director of the liberal government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told CNSNews.com. "I don't think there is any issue. I don't see the crime."
If it is true, such a trade would be an indictment of the system, Sloan of CREW said, but not likely illegal.
"A quid pro quo has to offer something of value in exchange for something," Sloan said. "If you agree not to run for the Senate and we'll make you secretary of the Navy -- that offers no monetary value. It's just the unseemly side of politics."
The Associated Press also reported that job offers such as the one Sestak claims the White House offered are common:
Ethics attorneys in Washington said such offers are common.
Melanie Sloan, director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, described it as "politics as usual."
Indeed, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote of Rep. Darrell Issa's call for a special prosecutor to look into the matter:
The practice that Issa objects to is common and not unusual.
Now, trading an administration job -- a thing of value -- for a political favor might well constitute bribery. It is also very common. A Nexus search turns up numerous examples. In 1981, President Reagan offered S.I. Hayakawa, then California's senior senator, a job if he declined to run for reelection. We know this because Reagan's chief political adviser admitted as much on the record.
In 1997, then-Massachusetts Attorney General L. Scott Harshbarger negotiated a Justice Department post while he decided whether to run for governor. The Clinton White House did not want him to make that bid -- they wanted to clear the field for Rep. Joe Kennedy.
(Remember when William Weld was nominated to ambassador to Mexico? Same reason, same motivation. Jesse Helms scuttled this, but for reasons having nothing to do with presidential political interference.)
More recently, after Rep. Ben Gilman found his congressional district eliminated by redistricting in 2002, the White House tried to persuade him from challenging another Republican congressman in another district by considering him for an administration position. Karl Rove repeatedly intervened in Republican primaries. And Tim Pawlenty is not a senator because Rove urged him to run for governor instead.
Ambinder also wrote of the issue: "Numerous press accounts testify to its ubiquity in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. No special prosecutor was ever appointed in those cases; no one was ever punished."