By Michael D Shear & Philip Rucker
White House asked Bill Clinton to talk to Joe Sestak about Senate run
At the urging of the Obama White House, former President Bill Clinton asked Rep. Joe Sestak whether he would abandon his plans to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in a Pennsylvania Democratic primary if given an unpaid, advisory position, according to a White House counsel report issued Friday morning.
Clinton made the inquiries on behalf of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last summer, as Sestak began his challenge of Specter, a former Republican who had switched parties, White House Counsel Bob Bauer wrote. Obama publicly backed Specter’s reelection bid over Sestak, who remained in the primary and defeated the veteran senator this month.
Bauer concluded that nothing improper had taken place and that “allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack a basis in the law.” Contrary to allegations by many conservative pundits, he found that Sestak had not been offered the position of secretary of the Navy. Bauer concluded that discussions about “alternatives” to a Senate campaign by Sestak were proper.
“The Democratic Party leadership had a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight and a similarly legitimate concern about the Congressman vacating his seat in the House,” Bauer wrote. “There have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations — both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals — discussed alternative paths to service. . . . Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.”
Sestak confirmed the account in a statement Friday. Clinton called him last summer, expressed “concern over my prospects” in the primary and spoke of the value of having Sestak in the House, according to the statement. Clinton said Emanuel had talked to him about giving Sestak a position on a presidential board while he remained in the House, Sestak wrote.
“I said no,” Sestak wrote, adding that “the former President said he knew I’d say that and the conversation moved on to other subjects.”
Questions about a job offer first arose during the primary campaign early this year, when Sestak said publicly that someone in the Obama White House had offered him a job. Despite repeated questioning from reporters, Sestak refused for months to disclose what job was offered or by whom.
Though efforts to head off primary challenges are common, the White House remained tight-lipped about the incident for months, fueling suspicions.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs would say only that officials inside the administration had reviewed the situation and determined that nothing illegal had occurred. But that didn’t satisfy Obama critics, who insisted for months that the White House provide a more complete answer.
Moments after the report’s release, the top Republican on the House’s lead investigative committee renewed his call for an independent criminal investigation of the White House’s offer of an administration post to Sestak.
Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the top Republican on the House oversight committee, called it a “trial balloon” for the White House to admit that Clinton had been dispatched to discuss Sestak’s interest in a Pentagon advisory post if he dropped out of the Senate primary.
Issa said the “offering of something of value, monetary or otherwise” could constitute a crime, and he called for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to launch an independent investigation.
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