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Pennsylvania

GOP panel pushes Sestak inquiry

| Thursday, May 27, 2010

Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak's assertion that he was offered a job by the Obama administration to pull out of a primary race against Arlen Specter has spurred allegations that the White House might have engaged in criminal conduct.

The seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday asked Attorney General Eric Holder to reconsider appointing a special prosecutor to investigate U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak's claim that a White House official offered him a job if he would quit the Democratic primary race he ultimately won against Sen. Arlen Specter.

The senators joined a growing chorus of officials in Washington and Pennsylvania, Republicans and Democrats alike, urging Sestak and the White House to confirm or deny the claim Sestak made in February on a Comcast public affairs show and reiterated in a Tribune-Review interview. Sestak said the White House extended a job offer eight months earlier if he would drop out of the race, but he wouldn't say who made the offer or disclose the position offered.

In their letter to Holder, the senators said they have concerns that such an offer violates federal laws, including promise of employment and or other benefit for political activity.

"The allegations in this matter are very serious and, if true, suggest a possible violation of various federal criminal laws intended to safeguard our political process from the taint of bribes and political machine manipulation," their letter states. They noted that Sestak last weekend confirmed the job offer in interviews on NBC and CBS news programs.

Because White House spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed that "conversations" took place between the White House and Sestak but concluded "nothing improper happened," their letter says. "The White House cannot possibly manage an internal investigation of potential criminal misconduct while simultaneously crafting a public narrative to rebut the claim that misconduct occurred."

Asked for a response to the letter, Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, referred to an earlier denial for a special prosecutor.

In a May 21 letter to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said the Justice Department "takes very seriously allegations of criminal conduct by public officials," but it has "a long history of handling investigations of high-level officials professionally and independently, without the need to appoint a special counsel."

Sestak, 58, a second-term congressman from Delaware County, was unknown to many Pennsylvanians until he trounced Specter, 80, of Philadelphia, in the nation's most-watched primary election. Specter, a five-term senator who switched from Republican to Democrat in April 2009 to try to win re-election, won only three of the state's 67 counties in the May 18 contest.

His office said yesterday that Specter, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had no comment on the letter to Holder.

Senior White House adviser David Axelrod said Monday a White House investigation determined nothing inappropriate happened.

Issa told the Trib that Holder's refusal to take action "undermines any claim to transparency and integrity that this administration asserts."

"Either Sestak is lying, which is the only way nothing 'inappropriate' happened, or the White House is and Robert Gibbs is lying," Issa said in an e-mail.

The congressman has nothing more to say about what happened, said Jonathan Dworkin, Sestak's spokesman.

Gov. Ed Rendell yesterday said Sestak and the White House should provide more details about the situation, according to Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma.

Sestak's Republican opponent in the November general election, Pat Toomey, said the issue is a needless distraction in the campaign.

"(Sestak) should tell the public everything he knows about the job he was offered, and who offered it," Toomey said. "To do otherwise will only continue to raise questions."

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