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March 13, 2010

The Sestak Stonewall: What's Obama So Guilty About?

Three weeks ago, Representative Joe Sestak said that the President had offered him a political appointment if he wouldn't run against Senator Arlen Specter. This should have been a bombshell, but it has gone largely unremarked because the White House is successfully avoiding the issue.

Sestak is sticking by his earlier statement, though he's chosen not to expand on it. The White House's silence on the issue—the Administration is not even denying the charge—is beginning to look like guilt. So what could the President be guilty of? This is not my area of law, but there are a few options:

18 U.S.C. § 211 Acceptance or solicitation to obtain appointive public office

Whoever solicits or receives, either as a political contribution, or for personal emolument, any money or thing of value, in consideration of the promise of support or use of influence in obtaining for any person any appointive office or place under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

Whoever solicits or receives any thing of value in consideration of aiding a person to obtain employment under the United States either by referring his name to an executive department or agency of the United States or by requiring the payment of a fee because such person has secured such employment shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

The sticking point is whether dropping out of the primary is "any thing of value." Some states define the term. Federal statute does not.

The next one is more likely:

18 U.S.C. § 600. Promise of employment or other benefit for political activity

Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party in connection with any general or special election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

That sounds just like what happened here, if Sestak's claim is true. Obama promised an appointment as a consideration for political activity, including support for Arlen Specter, in a primary election.

And then there's the long-shot, which I will clean up a bit because it's a gobbledy-mess. The sticking point here is whether the President can be considered to be "employed in any administrative position." The statute seems aimed at hiring officials:

18 U.S.C. § 595. Interference by administrative employees of Federal, State, or Territorial Governments

Whoever, being a person employed in any administrative position by the United States, or by any department or agency thereof...uses his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

The White House owes us answers. There may be a criminal living in the West Wing.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 12:16 PM

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