The White House confirmed on Thursday that it had explored the possibility of an administration job for a Democratic politician in Colorado to sidetrack his primary challenge to Senator Michael Bennet, much as it did in a Pennsylvania primary.... Mr. Romanoff... said that while no job was formally offered, three specific positions were mentioned as possibilities last September....Either it's a crime or it isn't. The phrase "political aims, such as" is odd. Have other Presidents offered political appointments to clear out competition in a primary or not? That phrase hides whether the NYT knows the answer to that question. Maybe the other Presidents have only offered political appointments to achieve other political aims.
It is not unusual for presidents of either party to offer political appointments to achieve political aims, such as clearing the nomination field for an ally, and Mr. Obama’s aides have said they did nothing wrong. But Republicans have called for a special prosecutor, citing a federal law making it illegal to offer a position to influence a primary election.
In any event, if it is a crime, it has kept some Presidents from doing some things they otherwise would have done. If those things are acceptable, repeal the law and remove the constraint that binds only meticulous law followers.
But the argument that others have violated a law with impunity can't be good enough. Many federal crimes are enforced against persons who don't get too far with the defense that others have violated the same law and escaped prosecution. It's a laughably childish argument: But, mom, all the other kids are doing it. Ever try to get out of a speeding ticket by informing the cop that lots of other drivers are speeding? That sort of thing doesn't work for ordinary people, and the President owes a higher duty to the law, not a lower one.
The Justice Department so far has rebuffed calls for an investigation and even some Republicans, including former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and President George W. Bush’s top ethics lawyer, have said it would be a stretch to call the White House action regarding Mr. Sestak a crime. But the focus on such tactics undercuts the image Mr. Obama has tried to cultivate as a reformer above the usual politics.So some Republicans want an independent investigation and other Republicans say — well, there's no quote — that it would be a stretch — did they say "a stretch"? — to call it a crime. Apparently, they didn't say "It's not a crime." Does anyone say "It's not a crime?" And "it" means "the White House action regarding Mr. Sestak a crime." But what exactly happened "regarding Mr. Sestak"? Without an investigation, we don't really know. And what about Mr. Romanoff? How did the NYT pose the question that procured semi-absolution from Mukasey and some — how many? who? — nameless Republicans.
Instead of that vague expert/counter-partisan opinion, what I'd like to see in the NYT is the text of the criminal statute. Or at least the statutory section number (with a link to the text).
The Heritage Foundation has some detail on the statutes:
A 1980 opinion issued by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department outlines the key distinction between what is legal and what is illegal under federal law. What is perfectly legal and what happens all the time in Washington is individuals being offered jobs for past political activity....If the NYT would like us to accept the view of Mukasey and some unnamed Republicans that there is no crime — or it's hard to say there was a crime — I would like to see more depth of expert opinion. Why do those statutory words not apply? Eh, Mukasey? Explain that. What are people allowed to do behind the scenes to win elections? Instead of resorting to the childish argument that the other guys are doing it too, tell us exactly why we haven't been presented with enough evidence of a crime that an independent investigation is warranted.
However, what is illegal and not normal practice in Washington is to promise a federal job or appointment to an individual in exchange for future political activity. 18 U.S.C. § 600 prohibits the use of government-funded jobs or programs to advance partisan political interests. The statute makes it unlawful for anyone to “promise any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit” to any person as a “consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party…in connection with any primary election.” As the OLC opinion says, § 600 “punishes those who promise federal employment or benefits as an enticement to or reward for future political activity, but does not prohibit rewards for past political activity.”...
Another federal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 595, prohibits any person employed in any administrative position by the United States “in connection with any activity which is financed…by the United States…us[ing] his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of…member of the Senate.” Any administration position offered to Sestak would be financed by the United States, so Rahm Emanuel offering such an appointment through Bill Clinton to interfere with the Senate race in Pennsylvania would also constitute a possible violation of this statute.