Right-wing media respond to Romanoff with falsehoods, including false allegations of a crime

››› ››› ERIC SCHROECK

Right-wing media have falsely claimed that the White House offered Andrew Romanoff a job in exchange for dropping out of Colorado's U.S. Senate election, and have falsely alleged or suggested that the White House committed a crime in doing so. In fact, both Romanoff and the White House have said no formal job offer was made, and legal experts have repudiated the claim that this practice would constitute a crime.

Right-wing media falsely claim White House offered Romanoff a job

Fox & Friends claims White House is "involved in a controversial job offer" to get Romanoff to drop out of CO race. On the June 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson stated: "First it was Joe Sestak, now another candidate for U.S. Senate involved in a controversial job offer by the White House. Andrew Romanoff, the former Democratic House speaker in Colorado is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Senator Michael Bennet. A new report says the White House offered him a job within the administration if he decided he would not run." During the segment, on-screen text stated, "WH allegedly offers CO candidate job."

Fox Nation: "WH Officials Admit to Another Bribe Attempt." From the Fox Nation on June 2:

fn_romanoff


Hannity: "Romanoff is admitting he was offered a job."
On the June 2 edition of his Fox News program, Sean Hannity falsely asserted that Romanoff "is confirming" that he was offered a position by the Obama administration if he would drop out of the primary race. Earlier in the show, Hannity had said that Romanoff "insists that none of those positions were promised or guaranteed to him."

Weekly Standard: "Obama Admin Offered Romanoff job to Get out of Colorado Senate Race." In a June 2 Weekly Standard article titled, "AP: Obama Admin Offered Romanoff Job to Get out of Colorado Senate Race," John McCormack wrote: "As much as the White House might want to claim that Romanoff was merely offered an unpaid White House internship or a spot on an unpaid advisory board, the Denver Post reported that Romanoff had specifically been offered a job to head USAID. If true, that would appear to be a quid pro quo in violation of the law."

HotAir: Romanoff "lied" when he previously said WH did not offer him position.
In a June 2 post, HotAir blogger Allahpundit discussed Romanoff's statement that the White House discussed job openings in the administration and claimed that Romanoff "lied ... when initially asked whether anyone had offered him a position." In another June 2 post, Allahpundit claimed that the White House initially "denied" claims that Romanoff "was offered a job to help clear the way for Michael Bennet," but that it is now "formally un-denying" those claims.

Doug Powers: "The Romanoff Restoration: Another White House Jobs Stimulus Program Further Exposed." In a June 2 post on Michelle Malkin's website, titled, "The Romanoff Restoration: Another White House Jobs Stimulus Program Further Exposed," guest-blogger Doug Powers noted reports of "three job offers" that White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina "sent to Romanoff." Powers did not mention that no formal job offer was extended to Romanoff.

Townhall: "[A]nother Democrat challenger was offered a job if he'd back out of the Senate primary in Colorado." In a June 2 Townhall.com blog post, Carol Platt Liebau wrote that "anonymous sources have tipped off the AP that yet another Democrat challenger was offered a job if he'd back out of the Senate primary in Colorado." Liebau did not note that the White House made no formal offer.

Both Romanoff and the White House have said that at no point was a job offered

Romanoff: "At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina's assistance in obtaining one." According to The Associated Press, Romanoff said in a statement that Messina contacted him and "suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race" but that Messina "could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions." Romanoff also reportedly stated: "At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina's assistance in obtaining one."

White House: "As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job," and Messina was, in part, following up on a job application Romanoff had submitted. According to the AP article, White House official Bill Burton said: "Mr. Romanoff was recommended to the White House from Democrats in Colorado for a position in the administration. ... There were some initial conversations with him, but no job was ever offered." On June 3, the White House released a statement noting that Romanoff "applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition" and later "followed up by phone with White House personnel." The statement added that "Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate." The White House further noted, "As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job." From the White House statement:

Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process. After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel.

Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.

But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the Administration, and that ended the discussion. As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.

Right-wing media falsely allege or suggest that White House committed a crime

RedState alleges "illegal horse-trading" surrounding Romanoff discussion. In a June 2 RedState post, James Richardson contrasted Romanoff with Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) and wrote: "Colorado, however, is an entirely different, seedy matter, whereby a senior White House official sought to exert influence in an election, presumably at the behest of the president, by means of illegal horse-trading." Richardson later cited statute 18 U.S.C. § 600 and claimed that "[f]ederal statutes prohibit the exploitation of government-funded positions, appointments or contracts to advance partisan interests."

McCormack: Discussion "would appear to be a quid pro quo in violation of the law." In his June 2 Weekly Standard post, McCormack linked to 18 U.S.C. § 600 and wrote of the White House discussion with Romanoff: "If true, that would appear to be a quid pro quo in violation of the law."

NRO's Foster suggests discussion was illegal. In a June 3 post, National Review Online's Daniel Foster noted that "no job was explicitly offered" but suggested the discussion was illegal, writing: "The linkage here seems clear. Messina called to gauge his interest in a potential political appointment in exchange for Romanoff dropping out of the primary. But then again, I'm no lawyer."

Legal experts have repudiated claim that 18 U.S.C. § 600 applies to this type of situation

In analyzing the Sestak case, legal experts have repudiated the claim that statute 18 U.S.C. § 600 applies to this type of situation:

  • Bush ethics lawyer Painter: "I cannot see how this statute can be reasonably applied" to the Sestak case. In a May 28 post, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported of his interview that day with former Bush administration chief ethics lawyer Richard Painter:

Painter also took issue with the notion that the version of events aired by the White House today could in any way be illegal. Republicans point to a Federal statute that prohibits any promises of "employment" as a "reward for any political activity."

But Painter says applying this to the Sestak situation is a big stretch. He argued that the sort of "political activity" referred to in the statute concerns political activity you might do for someone else, not actions you might take on your own behalf, such as dropping out of a race.

For instance, he said, this statute prevents things like the offer of a job to someone in exchange for their support for a particular candidate. "I cannot see how this statute can be reasonably applied to a candidate's own decision on whether to run in an election," Painter said.

"Based on the information disclosed from the White House, it's even more apparent that this is a non issue," Painter said. "No scandal. Time to move on."

  • Law professor Hasen: "I can't find a case" where statute "has ever been applied in this way." Discussing 18 U.S.C. § 600, Hasen stated on Fox News' On the Record:

HASEN: I went back and looked at this Section 600, the one that says about these job offers. That seems to be a statute that's really aimed at preventing patronage appointments. That is, you know, giving people who have done political favors for you jobs where they make money. I can't find a case where it's ever been applied in this way, and I think there are some good reasons why it probably shouldn't be. What we have here, really, is a political deal. It's a deal to say in order to strengthen the party, one of the two people competing should step aside. It's the kind of thing that happens all the time, and it's the kind of thing that probably is not what the statute was really designed to prevent.

  • CREW's Sloan: criminal allegations based on this interpretation of law are "ludicrous." In a May 27 blog post, NBC News' Mark Murray reported:

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that criminal allegations in the Sestak case are "ludicrous." She points out that there has never been a prosecution under the 1972 law cited by the Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans. "There's no definition of 'political activity' within the law," she said. "It's really not a very well-written statute."

  • Ambinder: "[L]aw has never been used to criminalize low-level political horsetrading." In a June 3 post, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder wrote: "The letter of federal law is designed to prevent direct quid-pro-quo situations where financial incentives are in lay and protect the rival politician from harm should he or she decide to make a decision that goes against the wishes of the powerful executive branch. But that law has never been used to criminalize low-level political horsetrading." Ambinder further wrote:

This is the reason why ethics lawyers can read the text of the statutes, which seem to be clear, and conclude that no prosecutor in his or her right mind would ever bring a case against a White House for doing what the Obama White House did. However, since the Obama White House holds itself as an avatar of ethical excellence, it might have to hold itself to a higher standard than other White Houses. That is an optical problem, not a legal one.

Previous administrations have also reportedly offered jobs for candidates to step down

NY Times: "It is not unusual for presidents of either party to offer political appointments to achieve political aims." In a post about Romanoff on its Caucus blog, The New York Times noted that "[i]t is not unusual for presidents of either party to offer political appointments to achieve political aims, such as clearing the nomination field for an ally and Mr. Obama's aides have said they did nothing wrong."

AP: "Ethics attorneys in Washington said such offers are common." A February 19 AP article about Sestak reported: "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.' "

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