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When Ignorance Is An Excuse

The whole discussion of the alleged bribe attempt when the Obama administration tried to buy off Congressman Joe Sestak from running against Senator Arlen "dead man walking" Specter has brought up some fascinating points. One of the most informative ones has been the observation (first noted, I believe, here) was that Obama could not have appointed him Secretary of the Navy.

The first reason is a potential conflict: the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, had previously been Chief of Naval Operations (essentially, the Navy's commander in chief). While in that job, Mullen essentially "fired" Sestak and ended his naval career. According to Wikipedia:

In the summer of 2005, Sestak was administratively reassigned from his position as DCNO effectively ending his naval career.[13] His removal was one of the first changes made by Admiral Michael Mullen when he took over as the new Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in July, 2005, according to Navy Times.

As Secretary of the Navy, Sestak would have been directly superior to Mullen -- something neither man, I suspect, would have tolerated.

More significantly, though, is the law establishing the role of Secretary of the Navy. One of the restrictions on the office holder is that they can not have been a member of the armed services in the past five years. Sestak's retirement was in July of 2005, which means he wouldn't even be eligible for the job for another month from today at the soonest. And the current Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, has held the job since last June, with no real controversy indicating that he's doing a less than acceptable job.

Now, those are very, very good reasons why Sestak could not serve as Secretary of the Navy. But they don't really don't cover whether or not he might have been offered the position anyway. There are two explanations that would cover that.

The first is ignorance. The law governing the SecNav (sorry for the insider slang there, but I don't feel like typing eighteen letters when six will suffice) is not exactly common knowledge, like the rules governing eligibility for the presidency. Nor, for that matter, the acrimonious past between Sestak and Mullen. The decision to try to buy off Sestak would not have been a topic for discussion among a lot of Obama insiders, and it's entirely possible that none of the parties involved were aware of either complication. It's entirely plausible that the discussion didn't go into more detail than "hey, Sestak was an admiral; let's offer him the SecNav job. He'd probably go for that."

The other one is a bit more Machiavellian. It presumes that the people who authorized the offer knew full well that Sestak was not eligible to accept it, but made the offer anyway. To them, it could end up a no-lose scenario, no matter how it plays out:

  • Sestak knows about the law, and informs them that he can't accept it. They get credit for making the offer.
  • Sestak doesn't know about the law, but declines because of his past with Mullen. Again, they get credit for the offer.
  • Sestak doesn't know about the law, but accepts it despite his past with Mullen. Later, after Sestak drops out of challenging Specter, they "discover" the law, apologize, and offer him a lesser job as a sop.

The only result that doesn't work out well for them is the one that actually happened: Sestak states publicly that they tried to buy him off with an unnamed "position," and some very sharp people note that the move appears to violate several federal corruption laws.

And yes, one of these "very sharp people" would be Karl Rove. No, I'm not using him as an expert on ethics here, but on ethics laws. And considering how he spent eight years successfully dodging some extremely dedicated and passionate enemies seeking to hang him for breaking the slightest law, it's clear that the guy is an expert on what exactly those laws are and what they say. So when he goes on TV and cites specific statutes involved (18 USC 600, 18 USC 211, and 18 USC 595), it's quite handy to check his references and see that he seems to know what he's talking about.

Of the two explanations, I find the former more plausible. "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity" is a good rule of thumb, and the Obama administration has struck me as more inept than sinister. I just don't think they are sharp enough to come up with the scheme outlined above.

Right now, we're seeing some really, really interesting spin. The Obama administration has decided to get Bill Clinton into the mud pit with them, and are saying that the "position" Sestak was being considered for was an unpaid intelligence advisory board. If these people were swift enough to come up with a plot like I discussed above, they'd have come up with a better story a lot faster.

In the meantime, this will continue to play out. And a lot of us will be watching this quite carefully. The initial attempt to buy off Sestak was a pretty trivial offense, but so was the Watergate break-in. That led us to the political truism that "it's not the crime, but the coverup."

Will the Obama administration go too far in their attempt to minimize and downplay the whole mess, and dig themselves in so deep as to cause serious problems? I don't know. But I do think they are arrogant enough to think they can do it and get away with it.

They've proven that time and time again.


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Comments (22)

Let me choose words careful... (Below threshold)
Andrew X:

Let me choose words carefully, because this is not necessarily in line with the thinking of the blog, but...

The thought has occured to me, and is worth all of us considering.... what would *I* have said if this exact thing had happened under the Bush admin.

What I might have said is along the lines of, "this is fairly small potatoes in the pantheon of high crimes"(it is, for if it had been done only slightly differently and more obliquely, it would have been business as usual), "It may have been a blunder, but it does not strike me as an impeachable one", etc etc.

I say this in full memory of calling the Valerie Plame "scandal", "the absolute stupidest so-called 'scandal' in the history of the nation". (Richard Armitage? Who? Whossat? Who cares? No one on the left, obviously.)

So therefore my sympathy for the administrations having stepped in it here is much muted.

But I ask all, before leaping to a "but he lied under oath about Monica!" argument, to consider..

We may very well get a Republican president in 2012 (God willing). When we do, can we get odds on the length of time before their scandal breaks, maybe needing a special prosecutor.... and the next Prez, and the next one, and the next one...?

Because there may be much fault simply in a US criminal code that has grown and grown and grown and grown and grown and grown and grown.... until it may be well-nigh impossible for a President to avoid stepping in it somewhere along the line, at which time all the devils will come storming out of hell.

Anything that reduces Obama's power is OK in my book, but I can't shake the weird feeling that even that very thought on my part is part of the problem, and that it does not matter who is president, we will be seeing this... again and again and again and again.

(sorry for the insider s... (Below threshold)

(sorry for the insider slang there, but I don't feel like typing eighteen letters when six will suffice)

Because a 90 character parenthetical explanation is so much more efficient!!!

Those of us who watch "NCIS... (Below threshold)

Those of us who watch "NCIS" know exactly what "SecNav" means: Leon's boss.

Correction. As SECNAV, Ses... (Below threshold)

Correction. As SECNAV, Sestak would certainly not be in a superior position to Mullen, who is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. SECNAV is not in Mullen's chain of command at all.

Granted it would be a bizarre and probably uncomfortable situation; but then again, this is Obama-Rahm land we are talking about. Chicago, strange bedfellows, etc.

This is a big deal only because the fools let it fester for so long.

Stephen, at that point I ex... (Below threshold)

Stephen, at that point I expected to need "SecNav" quite a few more times. I should have made the change earlier. But I tend to write most of my articles on the fly, publishing what is essentially the first written draft (I go through at least one in my head first), and I honestly thought I'd be using it more.

In brief: yeah, you got me.


Andrew X...your lengthy com... (Below threshold)

Andrew X...your lengthy comment at the top of this thread is not bad, it's just wrong.

THIS President's ENTIRE campaign centered on exactly ONE phrase: "Hope & Change"

He had ZERO relevant experience of ANY kind. NO Executive experience, laughably limited Legislative experience, a steamer-trunk full of bad associations, etc.

He got elected because he PROMISED he would be "different"..."transparent"..."open"..."honest", etc

Instead, what "Sestak-gate" shows is that:
- Obama convinced Sprecter to change Parties in exchange for a promise to "do everything" to get him elected (then broke the promise late in the game)
- Obama made an illegal attempt to use a high-ranking government appointment to DIRECTLY affect an election. This is NOT campaiging for someone...this is Chicago-style "remove the oppenents" politics.
- Obama then covered up the truth for MONTHS
- Obama then orchestrated the most ridiculous set of LIES in history to try and explain it away

Correction. As SEC... (Below threshold)
Correction. As SECNAV, Sestak would certainly not be in a superior position to Mullen, who is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. SECNAV is not in Mullen's chain of command at all.

SecNav is definitely is in Mullen's chain of command. He is essentially the head of the Navy under the SecDef.

This is from the SecNav Web site:

The Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) is responsible for, and has the authority under Title 10 of the United States Code, to conduct all the affairs of the Department of the Navy, including: recruiting, organizing, supplying, equipping, training, mobilizing, and demobilizing. The Secretary also oversees the construction, outfitting, and repair of naval ships, equipment and facilities.

SECNAV is responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies and programs that are consistent with the national security policies and objectives established by the President and the Secretary of Defense. The Department of the Navy consists of two uniformed Services: the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps.


SECNAV Falls under Chairman... (Below threshold)
retired military:

SECNAV Falls under Chairman of Joint Chiefs especially since SECNAV is ONE of the Joint Chiefs.

As I stated in the other thread.


All this episode will do is either put Hillary on the top of the ticket in 2012 (covertly or in the open) or put her on the ticket as VP.

The press is implicit in burying this.

The DOJ will do nothing.

The republican politicians know it isnt going anywhere and is going through the motions to appease the base.

No impeachment will come out of it.

The only person who may lose their job would be Rahmbo and that is only if Clinton comes out and pushes it to advance Hillary. His being quiet and going along gets Hillary on the ticket in 2012 as VP. If he pushes it all the way it may see Hillary on top of the ticket as "she knew nothing about it" and can play the injured spouse while the sharks come out to eat Obama after a disastrous 2010 election cycle.

SECNAV is ONE o... (Below threshold)
SECNAV is ONE of the Joint Chiefs.
I don't think so. SECNAV is a civilian position and JCS are uniformed general/flag officers still on active duty.

As I understand it, SECNAV is only over CNO and Marine commandant (just as SecArmy is only over Army Chief of Staff and SECAF is only over USAF chief); POTUS and SECDEF are the only civilians over CJCS.

Guarantee you that Sestak k... (Below threshold)

Guarantee you that Sestak knew of the restrictions of him being able to assume the SECNAV job as ALL DoD members are appraised of the law when they leave the service and is usually covered during annual ethics training in Commands. Heck, my command just did training on these restrictions about a month ago.

Jay, another possibility th... (Below threshold)

Jay, another possibility that you don't seem to consider is that all or some of the parties knew of the restrictions but planned for enough of a delay in naming Sestak as SecNav to make the 5 year time restriction moot. He becomes eligible in July 2010. That's just over a month away.

What if the deal was contingent on that date, and Arlen locking up the primary both of which occur close together. The idea being, Sestak gets out of the race, once the primary is over and Arlen gets the nomination by default, Sestak gets nominated to SecNav. Once Arlen is guaranteed of the nomination, Sestak is eligible for the SecNav job. This way they don't name him SecNav and then Sestak turns around and runs for Senate anyway.

If Sestak hadn't blabbed about getting an offer. There would be plausible deniability about a deal. Since he would have been named AFTER the primary, and long after he would have jumped out of the race.

I certainly don't know if that was the deal, but it is another possibility.

Ak4MCYou are corre... (Below threshold)
retired military:


You are correct. I was thinking of Chief of Naval Operations. My fault.

Hell, I'm just gonna stock ... (Below threshold)

Hell, I'm just gonna stock up on MORE POPCORN!

Sestak wasn't going to be p... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

Sestak wasn't going to be put into the position right away. He has a House seat they would want him to keep through January, rendering the time requirement moot. The fact that the position is filled is moot - Obama has never shown any hesitation at throwing anyone under the bus when it suited his immediate needs, including his grandmother.

Justrand nailed it. Obama c... (Below threshold)

Justrand nailed it. Obama campaigned very effectively on change and hope. Transparency and the promise things will be done differently in Washington if Obama is elected. Well, the left and most independents fell for it and now they are seeing that Obama is not only the same ole same ole, but more entrenched in the sordid politics then past occupants.

I am sure all administrations do this for strategical political reasons but if your caught your caught. Obama had the chance to hang out Emmauel and say he didn't sign off on this but instead he circled the wagons and threw Clinton under the bus. Now it will drag on unnecessarily. ww

I'm sure the SecNav positio... (Below threshold)

I'm sure the SecNav position was what was offered. Sestak bows out, Arlen wins. It all blows over. The following year, SUDDENLY, Sestak gets offered SecNav.

Connection? What connection? That primary was OVER A YEAR AGO! Sestak KNEW he couldn't beat Arlen. Plausible denyability.

But Sestak didn't bite. And he mentioned the offer to a reporter. Playing Obama style politics. "HEY! I'm not saying anything else, right NOW!" So Barry gets the message. All that campaigning he was going to do for Arlen? NOTHING! He couldn't fly up to Pennsylvania - too much on his plate. A 45 minute flight? He flew longer than that on his "date night". And Biden? He showed up for an commencement address, but 'didn't have time' to drop by a Specter rally. Sestak got what he wanted to even out the primary race between himself and Specter. And Sestak was prepared to KEEP HIS MOUTH SHUT!

But Darryl Issa kept asking questions in the House. For months the MFM buried it. Sestak started pulling the 'I'm an honorable man routine'. Now it's back out of the bag. Or as Joey Biden would say, "Now it's a big $%#@& deal!"

The press keeps hammering Sestak - and they are not buying "I have nothing further to add, I am an honorable man".

The Obama administration... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

The Obama administration has decided to get Bill Clinton into the mud pit with them

Bad move. You know what they say about trying to wrestle a pig in a mud pit. You'll always lose and the pig enjoys it.

Jay TeaWhen I read... (Below threshold)
retired military:

Jay Tea

When I read the title of this column I thought you were going to come to the defense of Lee Ward and Jim X.

Way to pull one over on me.

retired military - Hmmmm...... (Below threshold)

retired military - Hmmmm...maybe the REAL spelling is Jay Tease. ;)

Mullen is no longer the CNO... (Below threshold)

Mullen is no longer the CNO He is now the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the boss of the CNO, and unless I am mistaken, one who answers to the SecDef, as does the SecNav.

Jay Tea,I really w... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea,

I really wasn't trying to "get you." I just thought it was funny!

Stephen, you "got" me witho... (Below threshold)

Stephen, you "got" me without even trying far, far better than Lee Ward ever has. Or will.







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