Updated: 4:35 p.m.
House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Republicans sent a letter Friday to FBI Director Robert Mueller urging him to launch an investigation into allegations that the White House acted illegally by offering Rep. Joe Sestak an unpaid position to abandon his primary bid against Sen. Arlen Specter.
Issa said it was time for the circumstances surrounding the Pennsylvania Democrat’s job offer to — “at a minimum” — be subject to a probe by law enforcement officers who are able to determine whether a law was broken.
Issa cited two federal statutes that the White House appears to have violated. He said it was time for the FBI to act and well past time for the White House to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the case.
“This is best left to individual investigators either at the FBI or the U.S. Attorneys office,” he said.
Earlier Friday, Issa urged former President Bill Clinton to discuss publicly and under oath his contacts with Sestak.
White House counsel Robert Bauer released a memo Friday concluding that “allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack a basis in law,” though acknowledging that Clinton approached Sestak at the behest of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to offer Sestak an unpaid executive branch job.
Issa said the memo raised more questions than it answered and said he wanted to hear Clinton’s version of events in “a public forum.” Although he did not rule out the possibility of calling Clinton to testify before his committee, Issa said it “would be more reasonable” for the former president to offer testimony before a special prosecutor, which he has said should be appointed to probe the circumstances surrounding the situation.
“They’ve answered a question that begs many more questions: What did you say, how did Congressman Sestak so misunderstand it, obviously who sent you there specifically, and what were your instructions from Rahm or whoever?” Issa said.
Sestak, who touched off the controversy in February when he said in a local television interview that he had been offered a top administration job as an incentive to forgo a primary challenge, declined to comment to reporters when he arrived at and left House votes Friday morning, saying only that he would have a response “shortly.” Sestak said Thursday that the White House had contacted his brother — who is his campaign director — this week to discuss the situation, a move that prompted Issa to allege administration officials were working behind closed doors to coordinate a version of events.
Issa posited that Obama, his aides and/or his emissaries could have committed multiple felonies and questioned whether “corruption as usual is to be excused because it’s President Obama’s administration.”
“Karl Rove would be — right now — in pretrial confinement if he had orchestrated this sort of a deal,” Issa added.
“This is punishable by prison,” Issa said. “It is a felony, and this is exactly what President Obama campaigned against, even the appearance of. In this case, there is a huge difference between rewarding a political supporter with an ambassadorship, which is done all the time and is legal, and a quid pro quo in which you make a promise for something — illegal — or the distorting of an election.”
Although Sestak’s case is the only one in which impropriety is alleged, the White House has not been shy about interceding on behalf of incumbents to stave off primary challenges.
No offers were put on the table last May when Emanuel met with Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who at that time was contemplating a bid against incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Israel said Friday.
“There was never any discussion, hint, intimation or suggestion of any job or position,” Israel said. “Not at any time.”
Emanuel called the meeting as a courtesy to inform him “as a friend” that Obama would support and campaign on behalf of Gillibrand if there were a primary.
Israel said Emanuel encouraged him to “make whatever decision” he wanted “but understand that the president’s going to be supporting the incumbent.”
Israel said Emanuel’s message was “discouraging” and that it factored into his decision not to do battle against Gillibrand, but that he did not fault the White House’s approach.
“It was a courtesy,” Israel said. “I think it was appropriate. It was sure better than me waking up one morning and turning on the television and seeing the president campaigning for my opponent.”
John Stanton contributed to this report.