To many Republicans, the White House's story on the Joe Sestak matter just doesn't add up. Why would chief of staff Rahm Emanuel enlist former President Bill Clinton -- outside of Barack Obama, the biggest gun in the Democratic world -- to offer an obscure, unpaid position to Rep. Sestak in exchange for Sestak agreeing not to challenge White House favorite Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Senate primary?
Why send the Big Dog to offer such a little treat? And why believe Sestak, a former Navy admiral, would give up his dream of being a senator in any event?
Then, hours after the White House released its self-exonerating report Friday, we discovered Sestak wasn't even eligible for the position Clinton offered. The rules of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board expressly forbid U.S. government employees from serving. The White House plan called for Sestak to remain in his job as congressman from Pennsylvania's 7th District, so he wouldn't have been allowed on the board.
"Are we to believe that Rahm Emanuel, a former member of Congress himself, dispatched President Clinton to maneuver Admiral Sestak out of the Senate primary by dispatching him with an unpaid appointment that Congressman Sestak couldn't even accept if he wanted to?" asks Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Clearly, Republicans believe they haven't been told the whole story. But what can the GOP do about it?
Democrats control the White House, the House and the Senate. Republicans cannot hold committee hearings and cannot subpoena witnesses or documents. If Democrats want to shut down the Sestak controversy -- and they do -- then it will be shut down.
Still, Republicans have a few options. They plan to introduce something called a resolution of inquiry, a procedure by which the House of Representatives demands information -- documents, e-mails, etc. -- from the executive branch. If the resolution passes, the White House will have to turn over specific information on the Sestak affair.
Of course, the resolution won't pass in a House with a huge Democratic majority. But for Republicans, the appealing thing about a resolution of inquiry is that House rules require debate on the resolution before a vote, so Republicans will at least get to make their case in public before losing.
Another part of the Republican plan is to hold what is called a minority forum, which is basically a one-party hearing. Only a majority of any committee can call a hearing, and only a majority can subpoena witnesses. Without a majority, Republicans can hold a show hearing for themselves, with any witnesses they can persuade to appear. Don't look for Rahm Emanuel to be there.
GOP lawmakers have held minority forums on issues like ACORN and the Patriot Act. But they know they hold a weak hand. "The hearing will probably be incomplete because there are far more questions than answers at this point and it looks like they have all clammed up and are not willing to answer more questions," says Rep. Lamar Smith, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. "So that's what we have left."
"It really just depends on the interest of the public," Smith continues, "and whether they want to get to the bottom of it."
That's the key. The Republicans' strategy -- resolution of inquiry, minority forum -- can't really get anything done. It can only hope to stir public interest which might then pressure Democrats to allow more investigation.
It's happened before. In 2003, Republicans controlled the White House, House and Senate, yet public pressure pushed President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Valerie Plame CIA leak affair.
That's not an appealing precedent for the White House -- the CIA leak matter led to grand jury subpoenas for top White House officials, years of investigation, and a perjury trial for Dick Cheney's top aide. It's no wonder Attorney General Eric Holder has already turned down Issa's request for a special probe. You can never predict what will happen once a prosecutor is on the job.
In the Sestak matter, there's no sign of anything like the public outcry that accompanied the Plame affair; for one thing, the nation's leading journalistic outlets don't seem terribly interested. So Issa, Smith, and other Republicans are working on a long shot.
But it's clear we don't yet have all the facts about Sestak. So what does the GOP have to lose?
Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appears on