Holder Refuses to Comment on Question of Sestak Bribe’
With just days to go until Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary, Attorney General Eric Holder declined to comment Thursday on whether the Justice Department is investigating allegations that the White House broke the law by trying to bribe a candidate into leaving the race.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the ranking member on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, grilled Holder during testimony before the Judiciary Committee, berating him for not appointing a special prosecutor to look into allegations that the White House offered Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) an administrative post, thought to be secretary of the Navy, in exchange for dropping his challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (D).
“I’m deeply concerned that a seated Member of Congress, a distinguished Member of this body, has alleged what amounts to three felonies,” the California Republican said. “What are you planning to do?”
Holder replied that the appointment of a special prosecutor is something that is done on a case-by-case basis, to which Issa retorted, “What could be more case by case … than the allegation that this White House has committed three felonies?”
“There’s an election to be held in a matter of days, greatly influenced on the entire state of Pennsylvania by these allegations of illegal White House activity,” Issa continued. “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 replied that he has “great faith” in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which would make the call on whether to pursue such an investigation, but he added that, “It is the department’s policy not to comment on pending matters.”
The allegations stem from a February television interview in which Sestak, a former Navy admiral, said the White House had offered him a high-ranking federal job to dissuade him from running, an offer that Sestak said he refused. Sestak has since been tight-lipped about the alleged quid pro quo.
Such action would be illegal under a federal law prohibiting interfering in elections, soliciting or promising influence for obtaining a federal job or promising employment for political activity.
Commenting on Sestak’s words, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in March, “Whatever conversations have been had are not problematic.”
But Issa has vociferously pursued the issue in interviews and in Congress, sending letters in March and April to White House Counsel Bob Bauer and Holder, first asking for more information about Sestak’s and Gibbs’ comments and then asking for a “formal investigation into whether a crime was committed.”
“We have seen no witnesses questioned, and the White House allowed to simply say, in the opinion of a non-attorney, a press secretary, that these were not problematic,'” Issa said in his opening remarks Thursday.
The White House has not responded to the correspondence, Issa added.
Holder said he thought his office had replied and apologized for the delay.
On Wednesday, Issa announced his intent to question Holder, and he followed up Thursday on Facebook and Twitter, urging his followers to tune in to C-SPAN because he “will take his question time to ask why the Obama Justice Department hasn’t taken [Sestak’s] alleged bribe from the White House seriously.”