Sestak episode underscores Washington ethics problems

John Rossomando Contributor
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Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak’s revelation the Obama administration tried buying him off in his bid to unseat Sen. Arlen Specter underscores the ongoing ethics problems on the Democratic side of the aisle, not to mention the ethics problem that plagues Washington in general.

Having worked with Joe Sestak for four years on countless stories, I have always found him to be an honorable and down-to-Earth man. The two of us have our serious political disagreements on the issues, but our common love of our country and sense of integrity has allowed us to work well together and develop a bond of mutual respect over the years in spite of those differences.

The former Navy admiral is the type of person who believes in what he believes in and isn’t the sort of politician who will say anything just to get elected. I might disagree with many of those convictions, but I know they are genuine.

Sestak told me last summer he decided to challenge Specter for re-election because he was incensed by what he saw as a lack of integrity on Specter’s part when he chose to return to the Democratic Party.

If true, this sort of action reflects the sort of arrogance of power the Obama administration has shown the public in the past year when it has come to forcing its agenda.

Sestak, unlike some of the others who have had run-ins with the Obama administration, stands as a loyal, liberal Democrat who backs most of the administration’s agenda.

But if the congressman’s claims are true, they ought be viewed as an effort by Obama administration officials to pay back Sen. Arlen Specter for last year’s politically expedient decision to switch parties.

Obama, along with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, have endorsed Specter for the Democratic nomination.

Last week White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dodged questions about Sestak’s claims, saying he was looking into it.

This has caused California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa to request White House confirmation of Sestak’s claims and to his description of the action as “Nixonian” during a recent interview with Fox News host Neil Cavuto. Issa also accused Gibbs of participating in “a cover-up” of what really happened and theorized it was hatched by “the president’s men” and not necessarily by Barack Obama himself.

According to former Bush Justice Department official and current Heritage Foundation legal analyst Hans Von Spakovsky, the Sestak affair might not only smack of political arrogance; it also could be illegal.

Von Spakovsky said Sestak’s allegation is unprecedented in recent history and likely violates at least three federal laws barring a future appointment in exchange for political favors.

“If what Rep. Sestak says is true, then it is a pretty straight out violation of federal law,” Von Spakovsky said. “It would be tough for the Justice Department to sit back and not do anything.”

He said the Sestak affair would be an easy case to investigate because the congressman made his claim during a public broadcast, and the FBI would be able to get to the bottom of the issue if it were to depose the congressman and whomever he had spoken with at the White House.

Sestak’s background as a former high-ranking military officer would make him a particularly credible witness, Von Spakovsky said.

“I’ve known a lot of military officers, I’ve found they are bound to a sense of duty and honor in a way that most of us aren’t,” he said. “There is more than enough here to open a federal investigation unless there is someone in the Justice Department who has an interest in not investigating the White House.”

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton agrees with Von Spakovsky’s conclusion, saying the Justice Department needs to examine the matter to see if anything improper occurred because it creates an appearance of impropriety.

“Whether it rises to the level of a crime or not is something that only a prosecutor can figure out with a grand jury,” Fitton said. “Ultimately, it is going to be up to the FBI’s public integrity section and [Attorney General Eric] Holder to get on this.

“It definitely deserves investigation; I don’t know too many prosecutors who could look at Sestak’s allegations and not think maybe there is some fire there.”

Fitton said Sestak did the right thing by not accepting whatever post he had been offered in exchange for his dropping out of the race because it shows his character.

This episode underscores the sort of politics that has increasingly alienated voters from both parties and given rise to the Tea Party movement.

“From Judicial Watch’s perspective and my talking with people in the [tea party] movement, fighting the government corruption epidemic in Washington is a key motivator of the tea party activists,” Fitton said.

Government corruption should not simply treated as a problem when the opposing party holds the party in power to task.

Republicans and Democrats ought to hold their own members to the same standards their opponents hold them to because corruption harms everyone in society either directly or indirectly.

The nation needs more politicians like Joe Sestak who put the public interest ahead of their own careers and who have the courage to not participate in deals that carry a possibility of impropriety.

Americans want a democracy, not an elected aristocracy that thinks it is above the law and can do what it pleases without consequences, and the actions of government officials in recent years seems to trend toward the latter.

John Rossomando is a journalist whose work has been featured in numerous publications such as CNSNews.com, Newsmax and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.