Three members of Congress say the White House explanation of a “job offer” to Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., really didn’t explain very much, but it did suggest that on top of the apparently illegal attempt to convince Sestak to leave the Democratic senate primary in his state in return for a “job,” there were other crimes possibly involved.
“Rather than definitively resolve this matter, the memorandum had precisely the opposite effect: it appears to catalog a violation of the federal criminal code, the tampering of evidence, witness tampering and evasion of the legal process,” Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; Lamar Smith, R-Texas; and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said today in a letter to the White House.
The questions were raised because Sestak repeatedly and on the record has stated since February the White House had offered him a job in return for leaving the primary race against White House favorite Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. Sestak refused and ultimately defeated Specter in the primary.
Last week, heading into the Memorial Day weekend, White House counsel Robert Bauer released a memo suggesting an explanation – that the job offer was from former President Clinton and it was only for an unpaid advisory post.
At the time, it was clear 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 she 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.”
Bauer said it was “factual errors” that caused people to think when Sestak said he’d been offered a job to quit the primary that somehow might have been illegal.
Today’s letter addressed to Bauer said the memorandum he wrote “purporting to resolve allegations of criminal misconduct” by White House officials actually did the opposite.
“The Sestak Memorandum revealed that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dispatched former President Bill Clinton to offer Rep. Sestak a position on a presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board in exchange for abandoning the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary.
“The White House’s dismissal of these actions as part of an effort to identify ‘alternative paths of service for [a] qualified [individual] considering campaigns for public office’ is inconsistent with Rep. Sestak’s own characterization of his conversations
with administration officials.”
The letter continued, “In an interview taped of Feb. 18, 2010, Rep. Sestak stated that the administration offered him a ‘high-ranking’ federal job if he would not challenge Sen. Arlen Specter… Even if we suspend our disbelief that the White House asked a former U.S. president to call on a member of Congress to offer a mere unpaid advisory position in exchange for dropping out of a Senate race, the facts alleged in the Sestak memorandum still appear to violate several sections of the United States Code.”
The letter asks Bauer to produce “all records and documents created by or produced to the office of the White House Counsel in the course of the investigation of the Sestak matter.”
Issa is ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform while Smith is ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
They and Sensenbrenner wrote that the door is open for the Obama White House to “live up to the high standard of transparency and accountability they set for themselves.
“In light of the president’s oft-stated goal of promoting unprecedented levels of openness and transparency, we believe that the American people are entitled to review the substance of your investigation of this matter themselves. If the American people are to have any meaningful degree of confidence in the legitimacy of the conclusions drawn in the Sestak memorandum, they must have access to the underlying information,” the letter said.
A White House response to Politico on the issue said, “Congressman Issa can continue to chase his tail all he wants, but President Bush’s own ethics attorney (Richard Painter) said this was a ‘non issue’ and called on Republicans to ‘move on.’ Nothing here is unusual or ever thought to be illegal.”
“For a president who campaigned by assailing the policies and practices of the Bush administration to justify his actions by invoking his predecessor is ironic. This White House has frequently blamed the policies of the Bush administration when addressing problems, and yet in this case when those policies align with the president’s agenda, the White House did not hesitate to embrace them,” the letter said.
“Has this White House become a part of the establishment they once opposed?”
Pressure also was being put on the White House for a second, similar, incident – that of a report of a job offer from Obama’s deputy chief of staff Jim Messica to former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to stay out of a Senate primary with another White House favorite, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
The Denver Post had reported that setup months ago.
Now in an editorial, the newspaper is stating that Coloradans “deserve to know the details about any job offer made to the Senate candidate in exchange for not running.
“President Obama’s White House apparently isn’t that committed to dispensing with the business-as-usual kind of politics he campaigned against,” the newspaper wrote. “Senate primary races in Pennsylvania and Colorado instead have revealed an Obama political machine that engages in favoritism and behind-the-scenes wrangling and deal-making that seem decidedly old-school.
“The White House – and Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff – should speak up,” the paper wrote.
The Denver Post last September quoted unnamed sources who said Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, contacted former state House Speaker Romanoff, who hadn’t yet announced his candidacy, with specific suggestions for Washington jobs in exchange for his staying out of the race against appointed Sen. Michael Bennet. The White House denied any such offer, but sources told The Post’s Michael Riley: ‘Romanoff turned down the overture, which included mention of a job at USAID, the foreign aid agency.’
“Romanoff now refuses to answer questions about whether he was, in fact, offered a job. In fact, Romanoff refuses even to offer an explanation for why he won’t answer the question. And yet, like Obama, Romanoff’s campaign theme has been to run against the Washington way of doing things,” the newspaper said.
“We don’t know what to make of all the secrecy. Without an explanation, voters are left to wonder who to believe. And if Obama doesn’t mind the position in which that places Romanoff, he ought to care about where it places him.”
On the Hot Air blog, commentator Ed Morrissey said the Obama administration just keeps boxing itself in on the Sestak situation.
He noted White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied the job offered to Sestak was on the Presidential Intelligence Advisory Board but wouldn’t specify further.
“The only other standing presidential advisory board is on the economy, the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board,” the commentary said.
“However, like the PIAB, the PERAB also explicitly requires members to be from ‘outside the government,’” he continued.
“The notion that anyone would insult the intelligence of a retired admiral and sitting House member by offering him an unpaid job that would require his retirement from politics in order to give up a Senate bid is nothing but pure fantasy,” the commentary said.
He also pointed out the discrepancy between Sestak’s report that the contact from Clinton came on one occasion – to Bauer’s claim that there were “efforts” over a period of two months.
Twice previously Republicans had asked for a special prosecutor to investigate the Sestak case, without success.
At an impromptu news conference in Washington Friday, 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 columnist Michelle 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.”
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.
Kane also threw another wrench in the works last week, 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.’”
Members of the GOP earlier had said 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.
“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.”
Peter Ferrar, director of budget policy at the Institute for Policy Innovation and a policy adviser to the Heartland Institute, went further.
“Months ago, I predicted in this column that President Obama would so discredit himself in office that he wouldn’t even be on the ballot in 2012, let alone have a prayer of being re-elected. Like President Johnson in 1968, who had won a much bigger victory four years previously than Obama did in 2008, President Obama will be so politically defunct by 2012 that he won’t even try to run for re-election,” he wrote.
“I am now ready to predict that President Obama will not even make it that far. I predict that he will resign in discredited disgrace before the fall of 2012. Like my previous prediction, that is based not just on where we are now, but where we are going under his misleadership.”