Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Congressman accused of colluding with White House

By Alyssa Farah

The controversy over allegations White House officials at least as high as Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel offered two congressional candidates jobs in return for campaign favors, which apparently would violate the law, is reheating – with a claim that one of the candidates colluded with the White House on what story to tell.

Judicial Watch, a government watchdog organization, has filed a congressional ethics complaint targeting Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, a Democrat who has confirmed he was offered a post.

Sestak has said publicly he was offered the job if he would agree to withdraw from a Senate primary campaign against Obama favorite Sen. Arlen Specter, another Pennsylvania Democrat.

Sestak stated he declined the offer and subsequently won the nomination. Republicans also have called for investigations into ethical issues involved in the White House offer.

Judicial Watch's complaint targets Sestak for ethics violations, stating his story changed after he consulted the White House.

Judicial Watch charged Sestak was communicating with the White House to "cover up criminal conduct regarding job offers made to Congressman Sestak in exchange for leaving a political campaign."

The ethics complaint, filed just days ago, says, "The record of statements made to the media suggest that Congressman Sestak and Obama White House officials conspired to cover up the facts of a job offer made to Congressman Sestak in an effort to avoid criminal sanctions for violation of the Hatch Act and other federal laws. And by so doing they may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy."

Judicial Watch said that in February Sestak went on the record stating he had been offered a "federal job" to keep him from challenging Specter. He maintained that account until the end of May, when he suggested he hadn't been offered a federal job but an unpaid position on a White House "advisory board."

Federal law bans government workers from offering anything of value, including compensation of any kind, jobs or gifts in exchange for a partisan political action, which would include withdrawing from a campaign. There also are bans on members of Congress from being on some presidential boards.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said, "It sure looks as though Congressman Sestak and the Obama White House conspired to get their stories straight. They knew they were on the wrong side of the law and seem to have engaged in a cover up. Why else would Congressman Sestak change his story so drastically? We hope the Office of Congressional Ethics will respond to our complaint and conduct a thorough and independent investigation so the record may be clear."

Judicial Watch previously asked for an investigation into alleged violations of the Hatch Act by Emanuel and Obama's deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, for allegedly offering positions to both Sestak and Andrew Romanoff in exchange for their withdrawal from key Senate races.

Romanoff, a Democrat, is a former Colorado state house speaker who was challenging another Obama favorite, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.

Majority Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee already have blocked one avenue of inquiry into the White House's apparent attempt to secure victory for the two incumbent Senate candidates.

House Democrats recently voted down a resolution of inquiry into the case.

"Any high ground of transparency and accountability that House Democrats once claimed to stand on has been surrendered," Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said after the vote. "For all the talk, and it is talk, about living up to a higher standard of conduct and disclosure, time and again, the Democratic majority takes the path of least resistance and political expediency instead of fulfilling the American people's right to know the truth about unethical and possibly criminal conduct."

Issa noted Emanuel had told a television interviewer there is "nothing more that's needed" to disclose about dispatching former President Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an unpaid position he could not accept without leaving his U.S. House seat in return for his withdrawal from the primary against Specter.

The White House earlier released a statement that it had investigated allegations officials there acted improperly and found nothing wrong.


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