Pennsylvania Democratic hopeful Joe Sestak has attracted the attention of a former U.S. attorney for his insistence on referring to himself by his military rank of admiral even though the Department of Defense specifically forbids it, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Sestak has been made aware of the DOD restriction on military retirees making clear use of their military status while running for office but still regularly refers to himself as "Admiral Sestak." Matthew Whitaker, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, filed a complaint to DOD last year alerting it of the violation.
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The complaint prompted the moderator of a Pennsylvania Press Club event last month to ask Sestak, "Why do you maintain it’s appropriate to regularly use your military rank in your political campaign when military protocol, the Defense Department, the Hatch Act, and general good bearing and decorum recommend against it?"
Sestak stated plainly that it is because he "totally disagrees" with the guideline and believes he has "earned" the right to use his rank however he sees fit.
His response caused Whitaker to file another complaint, according to Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Today, Feb. 8, that former U.S. Attorney sent the DOD another letter of complaint, asking them to investigate Sestak’s ongoing violation of a military ethics directive.
Whitaker is the executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) that was founded last February.
Military officials said the ethics rules were put in place to avoid any suggestion of an official military endorsement of a candidacy or any approval of retired members’ participation in political activity.
Whitaker’s original complaint was filed in July 2015. The DOD did not respond to the ethics complaint. Whitaker decided to revisit the case because of Sestak’s escalating use of Admiral in all of his campaign literature and online advertising.
The complaint includes several Sestak’s use of "Admiral Joe Sestak" in politicking.
Whitaker said in a statement that it "has become plainly evident that [Sestak] simply doesn't think the rules apply to him."
"Mr. Sestak’s blatant disregard for the rules is deeply disturbing because while it was possible before that he was unaware of the rules, it is now clear that was not the case," said Whitaker. "It’s one thing to violate the rules, but it’s immensely more troubling to think the rules don’t apply to you."
Sestak lost the U.S. Senate race in 2010 to Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who currently holds the seat. He is currently outpacing his opponents in the Pennsylvania's Democratic primary in both fundraising and the polls.