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Darrell Issa digs in on the 'Sestak bribe' story

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) got the made-for-YouTube moment of last week's House Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder: Smith repeatedly attempted to make Holder say that "radical Islam" inspired terrorism, and Holder looked for ways to be diplomatic and avoid saying it. But if Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) wins Tuesday's U.S. Senate primary in Pennsylvania, expect to hear more about the issue on which Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) grilled Holder -- Sestak's off-the-cuff comment that the Obama administration offered him a job if he would drop out of the race. (He says he was being recruited before Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties to become a Democrat, then annoyed the White House by sticking to his campaign.)

The story simply didn't have legs as long as it looked like Specter was rolling to a win. But now? I've posted the video and transcript after the jump. Tell me if you think Issa lays a glove on Holder.

ISSA: General Holder, as I said in my opening statement, I'm deeply concerned that a seated member of Congress, a distinguished member of this body, has alleged what amounts to three felonies.

The former U.S. attorney, then senator -- now senator, Arlen Specter, has confirmed that in his opinions, if the allegations are true, they're felonies.

What are you presently doing and what will you commit to do, including hopefully a special prosecutor or a special investigator, about these allegations by a former admiral in the Navy and now U.S. congressman?

HOLDER: Well, I can say that with regard to the appointment of a special prosecutor, that is something that is done on a case-by-case basis. The...

ISSA: And what could be more a case-by-case than an allegation that this White House has committed three felonies in offering a member of Congress a high-ranking position in this administration in return for his getting out of the primary? What could be more appropriate than that? And if it's not appropriate and you're not conflicted, then what are you doing about it?

HOLDER: Well, there are regulations that are in place that have -- and there are requirements that have to be met before a special prosecutor, an independent counsel, is appointed. I have great faith in the people in the Public Integrity Section who would typically handle these kinds of matters. I was a member of the Public Integrity Section for 12 years.

ISSA: Fine. I sent you a letter. You've not responded to it. What is the response to investigating this? These are allegation of three crimes. There's an election to be held in a matter of days, greatly influenced in the entire state of Pennsylvania by these unanswered allegations of White House criminal activity.

HOLDER: Well, the -- I thought we had responded to your letter. If we had not, I apologize for that. These are matters -- all of these matters, any matter that comes up like that is obviously fact-specific and deals a lot with what the intent of the person was. I'm not speaking specifically about the matter that you have -- that you have raised because I don't talk about any matter that might come into the purview of the Department of Justice.

ISSA: Okay. Well, then let's talk hypothetical for a moment, Mr. General. Section 211, which prescribes what bribery is, the offer of a government job, which is Section 600, by an official. Are these serious matters?

HOLDER: Simply offering somebody a job?

ISSA: If I offer you a job in the White House, let's say secretary of the Navy, in return for your doing something such as dropping out of an elected office to clear a primary, is that a serious crime?

HOLDER: I think we're talking about more than a hypothetical now.

ISSA: I'm asking if that hypothetical is a crime. You don't answer specifics, Mr. General. Do you answer hypotheticals? Is that a crime?

HOLDER: I don't answer hypotheticals.

ISSA: Okay. So let me understand this. There's been an allegation by a member of this body. The allegation is that he was offered a position, a high-ranking position in the administration in return for getting out of the primary, which he declined and stayed in the primary. You're saying let the ethics section, the integrity section handle it, you don't comment on it. Then I ask if you those -- if allegations similar that I've alleged were true, would they be a crime. And you're saying you don't answer hypotheticals.
Well, look, you're here before us today. If you won't answer literal and you won't answer hypotheticals, you don't answer or apparently investigate, we have an allegation of a -- of three felonies that both the congressman says are felonies and the seated U.S. senator, a member of the same party, has said, if true, is a crime, and you're not investigating whether it's a false statement by a member of Congress or a crime by the White House. What are we to do?

HOLDER: See, the danger in dealing with hypotheticals is because you can never spin out in its totality what the -- what a real case would look like.

ISSA: General Holder, it is not a hypothetical when Congressman Joe Sestak says he was offered a job by this White House in contradiction to at least three sections of the U.S. Code. I've asked you what you're doing about it, and apparently you're not willing to say that it is being handled by the Public Integrity Section, you're only willing to say that those kinds of things are handled. Have you put any attention into following up on our letter and the allegation of Congressman Sestak?

HOLDER: As I said, I thought we had responded to your letter. But, you know, you're saying the premise ...

ISSA: It could be in the mail, but it's very slow sometimes. We have not received it.

HOLDER: All right. Well -- and I apologize if we have not done that. The premise that you make, though, that there are violations of these statutes, again, you know, things that would have to be examined, would have to be looked at by ...

ISSA: I'm only asking if you followed up on the allegations by a member of Congress and an assertion by a U.S. senator. That's all I'm asking. I'm just asking if you followed up. I'm not asking for all the details of how you would follow up. Have you followed up on these allegations that we brought to your attention that, to be honest, national press has bought to your attention?

HOLDER: Well, as I said, it is the department's policy not to comment on any of -- anything -- not to comment on pending matters to say there is an investigation, to say there is not an investigation. That is not the way in which the Department of Justice, under Republican or Democratic attorneys general, conduct (inaudible). That is not what we do. And that is the way I can answer the question that you've posed to me.

By David Weigel  |  May 17, 2010; 3:22 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election  
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