White House lawyer Robert Bauer’s statement today on the “job offer” to Rep. Joe Sestak carefully explained it was really only an unpaid advisory position that would allow Sestak to stay in his U.S. House seat representing Pennsylvania.
But the words did nothing to remove critics’ doubts, and one commenter on the blog of conservative columnist Michelle Malkin may have touched a nerve when he wrote, “When you are telling the truth you do not have to prepare a response. The truth does not have to be manipulated. It does not have to be reviewed by attorneys. It does not have to be prepared. Calls don’t have to be made to get the story straight.”
WND reported earlier in the day when the White House issued a statement from Bauer explaining suspicion that improper conduct led to multiple and repeated statements from Sestak that he had been offered a job to quit his primary campaign against White House favorite Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., was based on “factual errors.”
Republicans have asked the Justice Department for an independent investigation since the case as Sestak has portrayed it – a job offer in exchange for a political decision to drop out of the race – could be interpreted as a crime.
However, in a statement provided to the press by e-mail today, Bauer said the White House wanted to suggest that Sestak serve on an “uncompensated” board, and it dispatched former President Bill Clinton to discuss the offer.
“Recent press reports have reflected questions and speculation about discussions between White House staff and Congressman Joe Sestak in relation to his plans to run for the United States Senate,” Bauer wrote. “Our office has reviewed those discussions and claims made about them.”
Bauer said Sestak “accurately stated” that “options for executive branch service were raised with him.”
He said the White House wondered whether Sestak wanted to serve on a presidential or “other senior executive branch advisory board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with an opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity.”
Those positions were uncompensated, Bauer maintained.
“Really?” was the general response from critics.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has been the point person on the issue since Sestak made the first comment about the job offer in February, wasn’t satisfied.
“After more than 10 weeks of outstanding questions, the White House has offered a version of events that has important differences from what Congressman Sestak has been saying for months – that he was offered a ‘job’ by ‘someone the White House’ in exchange for leaving the Pennsylvania Senate race,” Issa said in a statement.
“I’m very concerned that in the rush to put together this report, the White House has done everything but explain its own actions and has instead worked to craft a story behind closed doors and coordinate with those involved. The White House has admitted today coordinating an arrangement that would represent an illegal quid-pro-quo as federal law prohibits directly or indirectly offering any position or appointment, paid or unpaid, in exchange for favors connected with an election,” he said.
“President Clinton and Congressman Sestak now need to answer questions about what the White House released today – that at the behest of the White House chief of staff, they dispatched a former president to get Joe Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Senate primary. Regardless of what President Clinton or Congressman Sestak now say, it is abundantly clear that this kind of conduct is contrary to President Obama’s pledge to change ‘business as usual’ and that his administration has engaged in the kind of political shenanigans he once campaigned to end,” the statement said.
According to a Roll Call report, the White House had contacted Sestak’s brother, who serves as his campaign manager, to let him know about the statement that the White House would release.
At an impromptu news conference today in Washington, Sestak said he was very “conscious” that Democratic leaders did not want him challenging Specter. His own statement paralleled the White House explanation and he dismissed questions over why he called it a “job” when the White House explanation called it an unpaid advisory post.
“I didn’t try to parse the word there,” he said.
Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told Malkin, “If the White House is coordinating its response with the Sestak campaign, as Congressman Sestak has reported, it certainly explains why the president, when given the opportunity at a nationally broadcast press conference, abdicated the opportunity to address the issue candidly and definitively.”
He continued, “Instead, it appears as if the White House is taking time to circle the wagons and coordinating their message. This revelation that the White House initiated a dialogue with Sestak at the same time they are preparing their public response certainly leaves the impression that there is a coordinated effort going on. Of course, if everyone just did the right thing and told the truth, the need to speculate about motive and impartiality wouldn’t be necessary.”
Sestak’s own prepared statement said he got a phone call from Clinton last year.
“During the course of the conversation, he expressed concern over my prospects if I were to enter the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and the value of having me stay in the House of Representatives because of my military background. He said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had spoken with him about my being on a president board while remaining in the House. … I said no.”
On Malkin’s comment forum, “NJ-Aviator” said, “What Obama is doing is trying to make sure that what they plan to say will not send Sestak to the media exposing Obama as a criminal. The Obama-Thugs are looking for some sort of sweet spot that is close enough to the truth to satisfy Sestak, yet not so close to the truth as to provide evidence for an indictment.”
Larry Kane, the host of a Comcast program in Philadelphia, originally asked Sestak in February about the “federal job” offer.
“Were you ever offered a federal job to get out of this race?” he asked. “Yes,” said Sestak.
Today, Kane threw another wrench in the works, telling National Review Online the White House originally denied there was any offer.
He recalled asking for confirmation of Sestak’s statement.
“When the White House finally called back, they denied it,” he told NRO. “Strategically, the White House press person I spoke with said Sestak’s statement ‘was not true.’ So I pressed: Was anything, at all, dangled? She repeated that all she could say was that Sestak’s words ‘were not true.’”
GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Jon Kyl or Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had asked the Justice Department for a review.
“Such an offer (as described by Sestak) would appear to violate various federal criminal laws,” the senators told Attorney General Eric Holder. “You have the clear statutory authority … to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate this matter, which would avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest and square with the precedent of Attorney General Ashcroft’s recusal from a White House-related investigation in 2003.”
Their letter to Holder this week noted the initial admission by Sestak in February that “a White House official offered him a federal job in an effort to end his campaign in his state’s Senate primary,” the letter said. “This issue arose again this past weekend when Mr. Sestak confirmed on both ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Face the Nation’ that he was offered a job, but declined to provide any specifics.”
The letter suggested the White House statements from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that “nothing improper happened” and from senior presidential adviser David Axelrod that everything was “perfectly appropriate” weren’t sufficient.
“We do not believe the Department of Justice can properly defer to White House lawyers to investigate a matter that could involve ‘a serious breach of the law.’ The White House cannot possibly manage an internal investigation of potential criminal misconduct while simultaneously crafting a public narrative to rebut the claim that misconduct occurred,” the letter said.
“It’s time for everyone involved in this scandal to come clean,” said Tom Fitton, chief of the government corruption investigating Judicial Watch.
He said the situation raises concerns about a “disturbing pattern” in the Obama White House.
“We still don’t have all the details about involvement of Obama administration officials in the sale of Obama’s former Illinois U.S. Senate seat by Rod Blagojevich. And we still don’t have answers about the charge that Obama Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina offered a federal job to Colorado Democratic Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff to keep him out of the Senate race. There is also the report that President Obama tried to push disgruntled White House Counsel Greg Craig out of the White House by offering a federal judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. And now we have Joe Sestak,” he said. “The Chicago Machine has truly come to Washington.”
The controversy is over Sestak’s multiple statements that he was offered a job in the Obama administration if he would drop his primary challenge to Specter. He refused and since then has won the primary.
A spokesman in Issa’s office earlier pointed out that while the Justice Department has refused to investigate, the Office of Congressional Ethics accepts allegations and details of misbehavior from the public in a section allowing for “public input” about members of Congress. It also provides an e-mail option for information that comes from the public.
WND has documented the opinions of analysts who say the alleged offer appears to be an “impeachable offense” on the part of the White House.
Dick Morris, a former White House adviser to President Bill Clinton, told Sean Hannity on his Fox News show the case is “Valerie Plame only 10 times bigger, because it’s illegal and Joe Sestak is either lying or the White House committed a crime.”
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