Governor Rendell and Rep. Issa Debate Sestak Offer

Governor Rendell and Rep. Issa Debate Sestak Offer

By Fox News Sunday - May 30, 2010

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: The controversy over former president Bill Clinton acting as a go-between for the Obama White House to get a congressman to drop out of a primary and clear the way for Senator Arlen Specter.

Let's bring in Congressman Darrell Issa, top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and joining us from Philadelphia is Pennsylvania's Democratic governor Ed Rendell.

Governor Rendell, do you think there was anything illegal or improper in the White House using former president Bill Clinton to ask Joe Sestak to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary?

GOV. ED RENDELL, D-PA.: Not at all, Chris. And in fact, it's happened in politics for time immemorial. I did the same thing in 2006 to ask a former congressman, Joe Hoeffel, to drop out of the race against Bob Casey in the primary.

WALLACE: Did you offer him a job?

RENDELL: I said come back and see me if you do it. He came back and saw me, and he was out of public service. I pointed him as a deputy secretary of commerce. He did a great job.

WALLACE: So let me ask you. If it isn't illegal and it isn't improper, do you think using the former president of the United States as a political fixer and then stonewalling about it for months was dumb?

RENDELL: Well, first of all, he wasn't a political fixer. Bill Clinton and Joe Sestak were close personal friends, and that's why they asked the former president to do it. Stonewalling it for months - yes, not smart. This explanation is perfectly reasonable. They should have put it out there at the beginning.

This whole point about secretary of the Navy - President Obama appointed Ray Mabus secretary of the Navy well before Arlen Specter switched parties.

WALLACE: Congressman Issa, do you think that what was done here was illegal? And what - if so, what would you like the Justice Department and Congress to do about it?

REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-CALIF.: Well, I think Governor Rendell just said it very well. He carefully made sure he did not offer him a job as a quid pro quo. In this case...

WALLACE: You're talking about what Governor Rendell...

ISSA: Governor Rendell just made the point for us. If he had offered a job in order to get out of the race, it would have been a crime, a crime under a law signed, of all things, by President Clinton during his administration, the last update.

If you offer a job or a position, 18 USC 600 clearly says that is a crime. So is it a crime? Yes. It's a crime because they've admitted that they offered this position - a position, by the way, that was created under President Clinton - and he could not accept.

So that begs the real question, Chris. Do we believe this is a further coverup because he's - they're now talking about a job that President Clinton himself should have known Sestak couldn't take.

WALLACE: Because he was going to continue in the House so he couldn't take even an unpaid position in the administration.

ISSA: That's the point. Maybe he did over it to him, but it's very clear that what they were doing is they're - they're now coming up with a non-plausible answer. It's the reason the FBI needs to investigate this. An independent - independent from me, independent from the president - needs to investigate and get to the bottom of this and - so we can all move on.

WALLACE: But you believe, one, it was a crime to offer it and, two, that they're engaged in a coverup now?

ISSA: It's clearly a crime. Anyone can go online and read 18 USC 600 and see that this - that what the White House is now saying happened falls under the statute.

WALLACE: But let me ask you, because - we're going to look at the relevant statute, which is Section 600 of the Federal Criminal Code.

After clearing out all the excess verbiage - and let me tell you, folks, there's plenty - it's - this is what it says. "Whoever promises any employment position to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity, or for the support of or opposition to any candidate, shall be fined or imprisoned."

But, Congressman, both Michael Mukasey, the last attorney general of the United States under President George W. Bush, and also the chief ethics officer in the Bush White House both say that this is not a violation of the law, that that law was in effect for the spoil system, and to prohibit people from offering jobs to someone to go out and support a political candidate.

ISSA: You know what's amazing is...

WALLACE: This is...

ISSA: No, what - what...

WALLACE: This is - you smile, but this is Attorney General Mukasey saying this.

ISSA: Right. Well, what's amazing is that this administration wants to talk about not doing business as usual, and then this is clearly business as usual.

Ed Rendell is saying this happens all the time. Sure, it happens all the time, things like this. But it's usually carefully crafted so it doesn't fall under this kind of quid pro quo.

And by the way, this is not what President Obama said as far back as North Carolina that things would be different. The question is has this been transparent. No. Has there been stalling? Yes. Is there a possibility that what we're being told now is not true because it's not so plausible? Yes. Should there be independent investigation so we can move on? Yes.

And oh, by the way, there are other claims of offers, including Colorado and Illinois, that are also in question. Now, I don't want to be investigating this. I don't want the White House investigating itself. The FBI or the attorney general should see that it's investigated so the American people can feel they can put this behind them. If it's not a crime, I'll accept that.

WALLACE: Governor Rendell, during the Bush administration, Democrats demanded independent counsels and a congressional investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, a post over which President Bush or any president has sole authority.

If we're going to criminalize politics here, don't Democrats really have themselves to blame?

RENDELL: Well, you're right, Chris. I mean, I like Congressman Issa. I love watching him on TV. He's always entertaining. But he's just demonstrated what's wrong with Washington, D.C. and why people in Erie, Pennsylvania and Scranton, Pennsylvania think Washington is nuts.

We've got huge problems in this country. We shouldn't be wasting time investigating something that happens all the time in politics, that isn't a serious offense. And you quoted former Bush attorney general saying it isn't. It's a waste of time. It's just trying to make political points.

Let's get down to dealing with the economy, health care, energy, the environment, all the things that are troubling Americans and troubling people back here in Pennsylvania. And let's let Congressman Sestak and Congressman Toomey, two good men, two serious men - let's let them debate the real issues.

WALLACE: Governor Rendell, let me ask about a different aspect of that, and that is the fact that when Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008 he said he was going to practice a different kind of politics. Take a look.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'll make our government open and transparent so that anyone can ensure that our business is the people's business.


WALLACE: But, Governor, in his report on Friday, White House counsel Robert Bauer said this, and let's put it up on the screen. "There have been numerous reported instances in the past where prior administrations, both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals, discussed alternative paths to service" - I love that - "for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office."

Question: Does it turn out, Governor, that Barack Obama is just another politician?

RENDELL: Well, no, Chris. I mean, Barack Obama didn't come in and say he was going to change every aspect of everything we've done. We've had some very good former presidents of the United States who did some very good things, and among them were things like this.

I think Barack Obama has brought a new level of ethical standards to Washington. Has he changed some basic hard-knuckle politics? No. You need hard-knuckle politics to succeed.

Interestingly, some of the same people who are criticizing him now for not acting in this high ethical standards were ones who said, "Well, he can't get anything done." Well, you get things done by using sometimes political means.

And the president has raised the ethical standards of Washington, no question about that - lobbyists, you name it. But he's not perfect. And there are certain things that have to go on to make things work, and this is one of them.

WALLACE: Congressman...

RENDELL: Politics will always...

WALLACE: Let me bring in...

RENDELL: ... be politics.

WALLACE: ... Congressman Issa.

We've got about a minute left. I'll give you the last word.

ISSA: It's very simple. If the American people care about a lot of things including corruption in government, then, in fact, if you use the power to appoint in order to do political business, to clear fields, to save your party money and so on, if it's not a crime - and I believe it is - it certainly is business as usual, politics of corruption.

The fact is once you're in power, if you can use our appointments, you can corrupt the process.

WALLACE: Governor Rendell, Congressman Issa, we want to thank you both. We're going to have to leave it there. And thank you both for coming in on this holiday weekend.

ISSA: Thank you.

WALLACE: Thanks again.

RENDELL: Thanks, Chris.


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