USA Today published a story claiming that Newt Gingrich broke the law when he said during the Republican Jewish Coalition GOP debate on Wednesday that he would appoint John Bolton, the former ambassador to the UN, as Secretary of State. The story has been picked up by several other outlets. However, those claims are false.
Newt’s comment was, “If he will accept it, I will ask John Bolton to be Secretary of State.” The basis for calling this illegal is Title 18, Part I, Chapter 29, Section 599 of the U.S. Code, which states that:
Whoever, being a candidate, directly or indirectly promises or pledges the appointment, or the use of his influence or support for the appointment of any person to any public or private position or employment, for the purpose of procuring support in his candidacy shall be fined under this title or imprisoned…
The clause that spares Newt is “for the purpose of procuring support in his candidacy.” As TPM reported, Bolton will not indicate if he would accept such a position, nor has he even endorsed a candidate.
Law professor Rick Hasen, author of the Election Law Blog agrees in a post at his blog: “I read this [clause] as requiring proof Gingrich said he would appoint Bolton for the purpose of getting Bolton’s support. More likely, Gingrich made the promise to gain support from voters.”
A second regular TPM source who in this instance preferred not to be named affirmed that to be illegal requires “a quid pro quo transaction , i.e., Newt would have to offer an appointment to an individual in exchange for that individual’s support for his candidacy. It doesn’t apply to a public announcement by a candidate that he would appoint a specific person to a specific position in order to curry favor with a specific portion of the general public.”