The top two Republican candidates for president both laid out ideas for who they'd want to serve in their cabinet in Washington Wednesday. What they probably didn't know is that such promises could break the law.
Speaking separately to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich each made promises about who might serve in their Cabinet if they're elected president. But it turns out, as USA Today notes, that candidates can't "directly or indirectly" vow to appoint someone.
Romney was asked if he'd consider naming Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, his pick for attorney general so he could challenge Eric Holder - before Election Day. "The answer is yes," Romney said, adding, "I can't give you any names, of course." He then praised Giuliani for making the Big Apple "a remarkable city."
For his part, Gingrich said bluntly that he'd offer an administration post to the ex-U.N. envoy John Bolton, who served under George W. Bush and who flirted with a presidential run of his own. "I will ask John Bolton to be secretary of state," Gingrich said, and qualified, "I will only appoint him if he will agree that his first job is the complete and thorough transformation of the State Department."
The penalty for breaking the rule that forbids candidates from making promises for appointments is a fine or imprisonment.
Romney's press secretary, Andrea Saul, offered this response: "Of course the governor, if elected, is going to appoint his own cabinet with new people and he will do so in accordance with the law."
Stephen Hess, who worked in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations and who advised Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, said the folly is less illegal than it is bad strategy.
"It's something that is politically such bad form," Hess said, referring to Gingrich's naming of a specific person to appoint before he's gotten close to being the nominee. "Who would do that sort of thing?"
The Gingrich campaign interprets the rule as saying that a promise for an appointment is illegal only if it's in exchange for campaign support.