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Bush ethics lawyer pours cold water on Sestak 'job offer' story

Richard Painter, who spent two years in the White House counsel's office as the ethics lawyer to George W. Bush, offers the soberest take I've heard on whether Rep. Joe Sestak's (D-Pa.) claim of a job offer from the White House is a scandal or not.

The allegation that the job offer was somehow a “bribe” in return for Sestak not running in the primary is difficult to support. Sestak, if he had taken a job in the Administration, would not have been permitted to run in the Pennsylvania primary. The Hatch Act prohibits a federal employee from being a candidate for nomination or election to a partisan political office. 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(3). He had to choose one or the other, but he could not choose both.

The job offer may have been a way of getting Sestak out of Specter’s way, but this also is nothing new. Many candidates for top Administration appointments are politically active in the President’s political party. Many are candidates or are considering candidacy in primaries. White House political operatives don’t like contentious fights in their own party primaries and sometimes suggest jobs in the Administration for persons who otherwise would be contenders. For the White House, this is usually a “win-win” situation, giving the Administration politically savvy appointees in the Executive Branch and fewer contentious primaries for the Legislative Branch. This may not be best for voters who have less choice as a result, and Sestak thus should be commended for saying “no”. The job offer, however, is hardly a “bribe” when it is one of two alternatives that are mutually exclusive.

The steady drumbeat of attacks and investigation demands from Republicans is as damaging for Sestak as the fact that he bumbled into this trap in the first place.

By David Weigel  |  May 27, 2010; 12:57 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election , Scandal  
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