Jonathan Chait

Sestak-Gate Is Getting Dumber

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Slate's John Dickerson compares the Obama White House's silence on whether it offered Joe Sestak a job to the Bush administration's silence on the Plame allegation:

The questions about what Sestak was offered have been nagging for months. They were renewed after he defeated Specter. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has responded as he did months ago. "Lawyers in the White House and others have looked into conversations that were had with Congressman Sestak and nothing inappropriate happened," he said multiple times last week.

Match this response with the one Scott McClellan gave in October 2003 when asked about what White House officials may have said about CIA official Valerie Plame. Reporters wanted to know who said what to whom. McClellan responded: "I spoke with those individuals … and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this."

The problem with both responses, of course, is that we can't just take the word of White House officials. Sestak says the offer was made, and the White House admits there were conversations. At least three laws might have been broken, according to Darrell Issa, the Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. With that many, it shouldn't be up to one of the interested parties to decide whether any laws were broken.

Wow, three laws! That's a lot of laws! Except it's not hard to find some Republican elected official to muse that the administration is breaking the law. They suggest this all the time. The plain fact is that there's no credible reason to believe that any law was broken.

You don't have to rely on the "the word of White House officials." There's no such thing as offering somebody a job in return for them dropping out of a Senate race. The acceptance of a job means dropping out of a Senate race. The concept of offering somebody a job "in exchange" for them declining to seek another job is like offering to marry a woman in exchange for her not marrying some other guy. It's conceptually nonsensical. The Plame allegation was a story because there was a credible charge of law-breaking. There is no such credible charge here.

Dickerson also repeats the ubiquitous trope about "transparency":

"trust us" isn't a satisfactory answerno matter what the question. Building a stone wall is about the wall, not what the wall is hiding. And there's also the matter that Obama promised new levels of transparency when he ran for office.

Okay, let's break this down. Obama did promise transparency. He did not promise to reveal the contents of every conversation he or any member of his administration had with anybody for any reason whatsoever. Dickerson's idea that the "stone wall" is all that matters, not what the wall is hiding, is a reductio ad absurdum of this idea. I demand to know the contents of the last five conversations Obama had with Olympia Snowe. I don't care if Robert Gibbs promises they didn't plan anything illegal -- I need to hear it for myself! Also I need to know what, if anything, they ate when they met.

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