Senate Republicans Ask for Sestak Probe

Posted May 26, 2010 at 2:12pm

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans called Wednesday for the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations that White House officials offered Rep. Joe Sestak an administration job to prevent him from joining the Democratic primary for Senate in Pennsylvania earlier this month.

Sestak, who defeated party-switching incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter on May 18, first revealed the job offer in a February interview but has never explained the details of the proposal or whom he spoke with. Sestak has repeatedly declined to confirm rumors he was offered the office of secretary of the Navy.

In their letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Judiciary Committee GOPers contend that if the White House did offer Sestak a post, it would violate federal laws that prohibit the “promise of employment or other benefit for political activity.”

“These allegations concern what could be a serious breach of the law,” Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.) said in a statement. “There has been enough talk regarding this matter; it is time for a thorough and professional investigation. A mere assurance from White House counsel is plainly not conclusive. It is time to get to the bottom of this.”

The Wednesday letter echoes an April 21 request from House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who also called on the Justice Department to a appoint a special prosecutor to review Sestak’s assertion.

In a May 21 response, however, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich indicated that DOJ is unlikely to appoint a special prosecutor.

“We assure you that the Department of Justice takes very seriously allegations of criminal conduct by public officials. All such matters are reviewed carefully by career prosecutors and law enforcement agents, and appropriate action, if warranted is taken,” Weich wrote.

The letter later continued: “The Department of Justice, however, has a long history of handling investigations of high level officials professional and independently, without the need to appoint a special counsel.”

At a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing in early May, Holder declined to discuss the claims, stating, “It is the department’s policy not to comment on anything, not to comment on pending matters, to say there is an investigation, to say there is not an investigation.”

In their Wednesday letter, the Republican lawmakers — Sessions and Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) — urged Holder and Welch to reconsider that decision.

“This controversy deserves full investigation, as well as public confirmation that steps are being taken to preserve records consistent with prior investigations of alleged White House wrongdoing,” the letter states.

The Senators alternately suggested the allegations could be referred to DOJ’s Public Integrity Section or the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has denied wrongdoing in the matter, although he has also avoided confirming whether Sestak was offered an administration post.

“I’m not a lawyer, but lawyers in the White House and others have looked into conversations that were had with Sestak,” Gibbs said on “Face the Nation” on May 23. “Nothing inappropriate happened.”