GOP: White House Sestak story not believable 

Republicans are expressing deep skepticism about the just-released statement from the White House on Rep. Joe Sestak’s allegation that the White House offered Sestak a big government job if he would not challenge Sen. Arlen Specter, the White House’s favored candidate in the Pennsylvania Senate primary.

The big question: The White House got Bill Clinton involved for this?

In the statement, White House counsel Robert Bauer admits that the White House was trying to clear the political field for Specter.  But Bauer says Sestak was never offered the job of Secretary of the Navy; instead, Sestak was offered only an unpaid position on a presidential advisory board.  In return for the unpaid advisory position, Sestak would stay in the House of Representatives and not challenge Specter.

The White House says chief of staff Rahm Emanuel did not make the offer to Sestak, as was widely assumed.  Instead, Emanuel asked former President Bill Clinton to talk to Sestak.  Clinton did, and Sestak declined the offer.  (As it happens, Clinton visited the White House on Thursday, just as counsel’s office lawyers were preparing the Sestak statement for release.)

The story that the White House would enlist such a high-ranking emissary — a former president is just about the highest-ranking you can get — to deliver such a meager offer strikes House Republican investigators as highly implausible.  “The messenger is huge,” says one investigator, “and the message is puny.”  If the White House took the trouble to involve an extremely busy former president, then the issue must have been a pretty high priority.

In a statement, Rep. Darrell Issa, who has been pursuing the Sestak issue in his role as ranking Republican on the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, said the Bauer memo just doesn’t match up with Sestak’s public statements.  “After more than ten 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 in the White House’ in exchange for leaving the Pennsylvania Senate race,” Issa said.

“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,” Issa continued.

In addition, the brief White House statement — it doesn’t quite fill a page and a half — leaves many questions unanswered.  “This doesn’t give a full accounting of what Rahm Emanuel’s role in this was, what [deputy White House chief of staff] Jim Messina’s role was, or whether any of the techniques used in the Romanoff matter were used here,” says the investigator.  (That is a reference to reports that the White House offered another candidate, Colorado’s Andrew Romanoff, a job if he would not challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet.)  Also, the investigator notes, the offering of uncompensated advisory positions would still violate laws prohibiting exchanging jobs for political acts.

The bottom line is, the brief White House statement falls far short of laying the Sestak matter to rest.  The next move is Sestak’s — we’ll likely hear from him soon.  And then Republicans will keep asking the questions they have been asking for three months now.  Finally, we’ll have to see whether the Democrats who called on the White House and Sestak to come clean are satisfied by this latest version of events.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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