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Politics as Usual or a Crime? The Lesson of Joe Sestak

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I don't usually write about politics. It's too sticky a subject and besides people already have their minds pretty much made up about who they like and which party they identify with. Me? I'm a registered independent, always have been. I figure my political opinion isn't going to change anyone's mind.

However, when folks start talking about no less than a former president of the United States having committed a federal election law crime, my ears perk up.

The quick back story: The White House now admits it plotted to stop former Navy Admiral Joe Sestak from running for the Pennsylvania Senate seat held by long time Senator Arlen Specter. Both the candidates are democrats although Specter defected last year after serving as a republican for 30 years. With his impressive Senate seniority and contacts Team-Obama clearly concluded Specter would be its most valuable ally. But, to make sure he stayed in the Senate they had to convince his most formidable rival - Congressman Joe Sestak - to drop out of the primary race. Enter the picture former President Bill Clinton.

Everyone agrees Mr. Clinton was enlisted to offer an incentive to Sestak. What's in disagreement is exactly what our 42nd president offered Sestak in exchange for dropping out of the race. The White House says it was an unpaid job on a presidential advisory board and that "no impropriety" occurred. Others - almost exclusively Republicans - claim the job Clinton dangled to Sestak was the Secretary of the Navy. When asked if the job offered by his onetime Commander-in-Chief had been a "high-ranking" job, Sestak said it was. When asked pointblank whether it was the prestigious Secretary's job, Sestak said, "no comment."

Congressman Joe Sestak is the highest ranking former military man currently serving in congress. He served in uniform for more than 30 years and upon retirement promptly continued his public service by running for office. If you believe what Sestak says about this episode - and I'd take his reputation for honesty over Bill Clinton's every time - it puts to rest the idea that Clinton offered him a measly gig on an advisory board.

Here the fact: it is a violation of federal law to promise any type of job in exchange for political activity.
Not surprisingly, a group of Republican House members have written to FBI Director Robert Mueller asking for a "full criminal investigation." One is California Congressman Darrell Issa who quotes from U.S. Code 600, when he says someone found guilty of what Bill Clinton did, "shall be fined ... or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

Also not surprising have been the reactions on the talking-head political T.V. shows. Those aligned with Democrats, like Newsweek's political maven, Jonathan Alter, say, "This has been done in politics forever... and there's actually nothing wrong with it. Nobody's ever been prosecuted under this."

Well, you know what I say? I don't care if it's "always happened." I don't want it to happen anymore! Besides being against the law it stinks to high heaven in a country that was founded on an open political, one-man-one-vote, may-the-best-candidate-win system. Knock it off! I'm not just talking to the current occupant of the White House, I'm talking to every politician at every level. And I know I'm not alone in thinking backdoor political maneuvering like this is what has brought our system to the paralytic crossroads at which we now stand.

Little gets done. What's good for the country as a whole is largely ignored. Laws are broken and our leaders look the other way. Politicians are too busy worried about what's best for their party and not their fellow Americans. They all declare that if elected they will be different - but mostly they're not. The mantra "Hope and Change" is still ringing hallow in my ears.

If this is the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the white-hot media glare of national politics imagine what goes on in local political circles in your state. And, it's not unreasonable to think if the White House inserted itself into a Pennsylvania race it might have tinkered with races in lots of states.

I don't know a lot about Congressman Joe Sestak and he might have made a great Secretary of the Navy. But, at a time of multiple wars in the world, when Somali pirates are roaming the high seas, as bloody gunfights erupt on so-called humanitarian vessels between Israeli soldiers and activists I want the best man (or woman) as our Secretary of the Navy not someone rewarded by the President for stepping out of a political race.

By the way, Sestak won his primary challenge, displacing 79 year old Arlen Specter. If he wins the general election he'll likely believe he'll be able to switch over to the U.S. Senate and do all sorts of great things for his constituents. But that's not the way politics works these days. Nothing will happen to Teflon Bill Clinton and the White House will make sure Sestak, the man who wouldn't cooperate, gets nothing.

Diane Dimond can be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.com