May 28, 2010

"White House Used Bill Clinton to Ask Sestak to Drop Out of Race"

The NY Times Caucus blog has this post, which begins: "President Obama's chief of staff used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to see if Representative Joe Sestak would drop out of a Senate primary if given a prominent, but unpaid, advisory position, people briefed on the matter said Friday." The article also states that "The office of Robert F. Bauer, the White House counsel, has concluded that Mr. Emanuel's proposal did not violate laws prohibiting government employees from promising employment as a reward for political activity because the position being offered was unpaid. The office also found other examples of presidents offering positions to political allies to achieve political aims."
I expect we'll see a formal report issued today (not coincidentally on the Friday of a three-day weekend), following briefings to the Times and Post.
My earlier thoughts on this controversy, tentative as they are, are here.

UPDATE: Here is the Sestak memorandum from the White House Counsel's office. There is no detailed parsing of statutes, but rather a statement of facts consistent with what was reported in the Times and the conclusion that "alternative paths of service" offered to prevent a divisive primary is both common and "fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements."
Mark Ambinder offers thoughts in line with my initial take: "It is hard to see, quite frankly, how this account implies any violation of criminal law, and how any law that governs the intersection of the executive branch and electoral politics would intend to criminalize routine and innocuous political horse-trading, especially since the President is dual-hatted, in our system, as the leader of his political party." He also links to these thoughts from Prof. Painter, the former Bush ethics adviser.

Posted by Rick Hasen at May 28, 2010 08:08 AM