Lawmaker requests Hatch Act probe of top White House officials
On Tuesday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked acting U.S. Special Counsel William Reukauf to look into possible Hatch Act violations committed by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina. Issa alleged that Emanuel and Messina discouraged two Democratic senatorial candidates from waging primary challenges against White House-supported opponents by dangling the possibility of a position in the Obama administration.
"Averting divisive primary campaigns and protecting a Democratic seat in the U.S. House of Representatives are purely political concerns and as such, federal officials are prohibited from using their official authority or influence to address them," Issa wrote in a June 8 letter to Reukauf. "Essentially, Rahm Emanuel was leveraging the power and access of his official position to advance the political interests of the Democratic Party by affecting the results of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary. This is precisely the sort of behavior forbidden by the Hatch Act."
The White House disclosed last month that Emanuel had solicited the help of former President Bill Clinton to convince Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., to drop out of the Democratic Pennsylvania Senate primary against Sen. Arlen Specter.
Clinton discussed the possibility of Sestak assuming an unpaid presidential or senior executive branch advisory position if he agreed to drop out of the race, White House Counsel Robert Bauer said in a May 28 memorandum. Sestak declined the offer and went on to win the primary.
Earlier this month, the White House revealed that in September 2009, Messina called and e-mailed Andrew Romanoff, the speaker of the Colorado General Assembly, regarding Romanoff's intentions to challenge Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Col., for the seat during the August primary. Romanoff had applied for a position at the U.S. Agency for International Development during the presidential transition and Messina inquired if he was still interested in the spot.
"Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the administration and that ended the discussion," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement. "As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job."
But, Issa noted in a separate letter that a Hatch Act violation does not require that a job be formally offered. According to the statute, federal officials cannot use their "official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election."
Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the Hatch Act unit at the Office of Special Counsel, said the agency does not comment on pending matters. But, as a general policy, she said that after receiving a Hatch Act complaint, OSC will conduct a preliminary investigation before deciding whether the matter merits a full investigation.
All civilian employees in the executive branch, with the exception of the president and vice president, are covered by the provisions of the Hatch Act.
Employees who violate the Hatch Act can be removed from their position unless the Merit Systems Protection Board finds by unanimous vote that the violation does not warrant removal. In that case, "a penalty of not less than a 30-day suspension without pay shall be imposed by direction of the Board," the statute said.
The White House, which has denied wrongdoing in the Sestak and Romanoff incidents, did not respond to requests for comment.
Issa previously has called on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor in the Sestak case. Last month, House and Senate Republicans expanded their investigation, asking the FBI to look into the matter.