In discussing Sestak allegations, did Rove admit to committing a crime?

This evening on On the Record, Fox News political analyst Karl Rove weighed in on Rep. Joe Sestak's claim that he was offered a job by the Obama administration in order to convince him to drop out of the Senate race in Pennsylvania. Among other allegations, Rove asserts that the Obama administration may have violated “18 U.S.C. 595, which prohibits a federal official from interfering, a government employee, interfering with the nomination or election for office”:

A few points. First of all, if Rove's interpretation of 18 U.S.C. 595 is accurate, he is probably guilty of violating it in his past role as White House advisor to President Bush.

From an April 19, 2001, Minneapolis Star Tribune article (emphasis added, accessed via Nexis) :

Minnesota House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty said Wednesday that he won't run for the U.S. Senate in 2002, but only because Vice President Dick Cheney called him on his cell phone earlier in the morning and urged him not to challenge St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman for the Republican nomination.

Pawlenty's dramatic last-minute decision is the latest development in an extraordinary intervention by the White House and President Bush on behalf of Coleman, who was chairman of the Bush presidential campaign in the state.

The White House's intense interest in the race is a reflection of the 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

It may also signal a keen interest by Bush for Republicans to win the seat held by Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., who has been among the president's most severe critics.

On Tuesday night, White House political strategist Karl Rove called Pawlenty and urged him not to run. Pawlenty said he was still intending to begin an exploratory candidacy after the Rove call.

But the request from Cheney, which came as Pawlenty was returning from a dentist's office with his daughters, was impossible to resist.

“On behalf of the president and the vice president of the United States, [Cheney] asked that I not go forward. . . . For the good of the party, for the good of the effort [against Wellstone] I agreed not to pursue an exploratory campaign,” Pawlenty said at a news conference.

At the White House, a spokesman for Bush confirmed that Cheney made the call, but he declined to elaborate.

“I guess from our end, we would consider that conversation private,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

But he said that Bush, Cheney and Rove have discussed the Minnesota race and that Coleman has strong support in the White House.

“Norm Coleman is a respected leader who worked very hard for President Bush during the campaign as his Minnesota chairman, and because of that, he has many friends in this administration,” Stanzel said.

Similarly, from the October 30, 2002, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (accessed from Nexis):

Rove has thrust himself into targeted races with a characteristic take-no-prisoners style. He has recruited candidates, lobbied state lawmakers for favorable congressional redistricting plans, coordinated fund-raising and propelled Bush onto an exhaustive travel schedule to help Republican candidates.


Rove helped recruit Cornyn for the Senate race and, according to one source who requested anonymity for fear of being fired, insisted that the Republican national party allocate more than $2 million to the Texas race after GOP officials considered using the money in tighter contests. Rove also calls back to Texas with periodic advice, but Cornyn strategists say Rove does not play a dominant role in the campaign.


Rove reportedly urged U.S. Rep. John Thune to abandon a governor's race to take on Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson in South Dakota. He has also been active in marshaling White House support behind Republican candidates in Missouri, Georgia and other toss-up races.

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder further reports that “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.”

Ambinder also says that the statute Rove is referring to “on its face ... would seem to prohibit President Obama from campaigning for any candidate”:

Still, another law, (18 USC 595) makes it illegal for any officer of an executive branch agency acting in his executive capacity from interfering in a political race. On its face, though, this would seem to prohibit President Obama from campaigning for any candidate, since he is always acting in his executive capacity unless he temporarily transfers power to the Vice President. Obama, in supporting, say, Michael Bennet over Andrew Romanoff in Colorado, is providing Bennet with a substantial thing of value directly related to job as president. It would be foolish to interpret the statute this broadly, but it follows logically. (For financial purposes, political events are segregated from general treasury funds, but the cost of the enormous presidential entourage is borne by taxpayers.)

Moreover, legal expert Melanie Sloan of CREW has disputed the notion that an offer from the Obama administration to Sestak would amount to a crime, reportedly saying, “I don't think there is any issue. I don't see the crime.”