Adding to the dogpile, I wrote this little piece for the American Security Council Foundation website a month or two ago. Representative Sestak's win in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania for the senate seat up for grabs this November has brought this issue back to the fore. As much as Robert Gibbs, Congressman Sestak and the entire Obama administration would like it to disappear and become a non-issue, I don't think it will. Nor should it. The American people simply do not trust their elected representatives these days, be them senators or members of the house, and any question of values and honesty, I believe, should be a hyper critical discussion issue anywhere, anytime, for anyone.
Representative Sestak, while a guest on "Meet the Press" this past weekend, said "I learned, as I mentioned, about that personal accountability in the Navy". One of the questions that needs to be answered is if that "personal accountability" he learned as a naval officer has carried over into his political life and career. Stonewalling this issue with non-answers and pushing the responsibility of owning up to any political malfeasance onto others does not a reassuring candidate make.
Core Values. Most any organization, civilian or military, have an established and published set of principles - a code of behavior, if you will - that they believe are essential to success whether it be in business or on the battlefield.
The United States military have a unique mandate from the nation in this regard. Not only are they entrusted with executing the orders of the Commander In Chief, they are also charged with defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
When you are trusted to defend the Constitution of the United States, there are a number of qualities of character and statements of principle that would be considered inherent to the job description that are essential to mission success.
The US Navy, many years ago, decided to codify those “qualities of character and statements of principle” by establishing what became known as Navy Core Values. What emerged - Honor, Courage and Commitment - are the three values that Navy leadership concluded were the non-negotiable, bedrock, deckplate foundational elements of naval service.
Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania’s 7th district first-term representative and a former US Navy Vice Admiral, seems to be putting those values to test.
During a radio interview a few weeks ago, Rep. Sestak was asked the question if, as had been rumored, the White House offered him a “high national security position” if he dropped his primary challenge for the Pennsylvania senate seat currently held by recently-flipped Democratic Senator Arlen Specter and up for election in November of this year.
Representative Sestak answered in the positive – yes, the White House did offer him a federal job if he got out of the Senate race. Sestak refused to say what job this offered position was, preferring rather to brush it off with a "There's nothing to be gained by focusing on this politics stuff," comment in a later televised interview. “To go beyond that…” Sestak said, “…doesn’t serve any purpose”.
White House-Congressional business as usual? Quid pro quo? Mutual back scratching? Political deal making? Nuanced job discussions? Ad hoc job offer? Typical Washington DC business dealings? Why would this be important? It is important because the offer from the White House very easily could have broken the law and Sestak’s refusal to call the White House on this violation and have it followed up by legal officials could potentially be a further violation of the law.
The White House could be on the hook for a violation of Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, Section 211, which covers "bribery, graft, and conflicts of interest." Specifically, the statute imposes a fine and/or possible imprisonment on anyone who "solicits or receives ... any money or thing of value in consideration of the promise of support or use of influence in obtaining for any person any appointive office or place under the United States." Making an offer to Congressman Sestak (“a thing of value”) if he would not run against Senator Specter in the Democratic primary (“any appointive office”) would certainly seem to meet the criteria.
Representative Sestak, by not reporting this, is either woefully ignorant of the law, is not concerned with ethics in federal government or is intentionally withholding knowledge of any improper offer and thus might be guilty of misprision by not reporting the knowledge of a possible felony to the proper authorities.
What was that about Core Values?
The White House, when asked about Sestak’s claims, first went into Ignorance Mode with Spokesman Robert Gibbs saying he had “…not looked into it.” Later, after weeks of filibustering in the White House Press Room, Gibbs closed the issue with a comment that he had talked to people in the White House who had talked to others and was told there were no problems. Not exactly a reassuring endorsement of any absence of malfeasance in this administration and congress.
Is there any difference between former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich offering up former Senator Obama’s senate seat to the highest bidder and the Obama administration offering up a plum federal position to a congressman for not running for a senate seat? If there is it appears to be nothing more than a matter of semantics.
The former Vice-Admiral and now Congressman Sestak’s 30-plus year Navy career notwithstanding, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of “Core Values” at work here. When Rep. Sestak said that going any further “doesn’t serve any purpose”, one might gasp at the hubris of the statement. How about it may serve the rule of law? How about serving your constituents with honor? With courage? With commitment? With integrity?
Those same core values that apply to the newest sailor or airman or soldier or marine should apply, as well, to those elected officials who are charged with representing us at any and all levels of government – municipal, state or federal, especially at the very top of the political pyramid.
Core values - concepts like honor, courage, commitment and integrity - are not throw-away lines to be used only when necessary and discarded when they become inconvenient or a hindrance to one’s ambitions or goals. They are, as we opened up this discussion with, qualities of character and statements of principle that we should all embrace and live by.
Any possible legal ramifications aside, the first problem is someone is not telling the truth here - the White House said they did nothing wrong in talking to Rep. Sestak and Rep. Sestak intimated the White House broke the law. For a president with historically low approval ratings early in his administration- and a congress with even lower approval ratings – trying to ignore this and hope it goes away may be the endgame they want to achieve. The rest of the country, however, would most likely prefer both branches of government take a refresher course in “Core Values”.