May 28th, 2010
11:29 AM ET
4 years ago

Clinton acted as White House intermediary on Sestak offer

Former President Bill Clinton called Joe Sestak on the White House's behalf.
Former President Bill Clinton called Joe Sestak on the White House's behalf.

(CNN) - Administration officials engaged in no improper conduct as part of alleged efforts to dissuade Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak from launching a primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter, White House Legal Counsel Robert Bauer asserted Friday in publicly-released memorandum.

According to Bauer, Sestak was offered a high-level but unpaid position. Sestak turned the offer down, and ended up scoring an upset victory over Specter in last week's Pennsylvania primary. The White House was instrumental in last year's switch by Specter from the GOP to the Democratic party. It backed him in his bid for a sixth term in the Senate, and was eager to clear the field of any primary opponents.

"I'll have something for you later," Sestak told CNN Friday, as he walked to the House chamber for a vote.

A White House source also told CNN's John King, "Bill Clinton did talk to Sestak at the urging of Rahm, to discuss executive branch service based on the assumption he would stay in the House."

Thursday, in a press conference that largely focused on the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast, President Barack Obama refuted allegations of impropriety surrounding reports that his administration offered Sestak a position if he would drop his Pennsylvania senate bid.

"I can assure the public that nothing improper took place," the President said toward the end of his hour-long news conference.

But Obama refused to give any more details, even as several Republicans and a handful of Democrats have demanded the White House be more forthcoming on the matter.

"There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue, which I hope will answer your questions," Obama said when asked about the issue. "You will get it from my administration. And it will be coming out, when I say shortly, I mean shortly. I don't mean weeks or months."

In February, Sestak, a former Navy admiral and two-term Philadelphia area congressman, said that someone in the White House last year offered him a job on the condition that he not mount a primary challenge to Specter.

Sestak had since refused to reveal any more details about the job offer – a pattern he continued earlier this week in an interview on CNN's "John King USA."

"I will let others speak for themselves," Sestak said when asked whom he talked to at the White House." I have said all I am going to say on the matter,"

But following the president's comments Thursday, Sestak said he would discuss the matter after the White House released its statement.

Since Sestak's May 18 primary victory, Republicans have been relentless keeping the controversy in the news. On Wednesday, all seven Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee called for a special prosecutor to look into the matter.

One of the unpaid positions that the White House suggested offering Sestak was an appointment to the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, which gives the president independent oversight and advice. But it was determined that Sestak could not serve on the board, since he was an active a member of Congress.

It appears that Emanuel picked Clinton as a go-between with Sestak because of the former president's stature as an elder statesman and prominent figure in the Democratic party, and because Sestak worked on the National Security Council during Clinton's years in the White House. Sestak backed former first lady and then Sen. Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.

Last week, before an appearance on CNN, cameras in the Russell Senate Office Building caught Sestak accepting a call from the former president.

According to a source at the State Department, Emanuel remains on a trip to Israel and is not expected back in the country until Monday.

–CNN's Dana Bash, John King and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

soundoff (245 Responses)
  1. stevegee

    Nixon had Watergate, and now there's ObamaGate. One degree of separation doesn't get around the law - a bribe is a bribe. Let the impeachment begin!

    May 28, 2010 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  2. mh

    Jail Clinton and Emanuel. Impeach Obama.

    May 28, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  3. rita

    YIKES!!!! This is not good news. I never expected this.

    May 28, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  4. Bob Ramos

    The GOP is not only making itself look silly by proposing a special investigation but is shooting itself in the foot. If their wish is granted, the purpose of the investigation could easily be expanded to include Bush.

    May 28, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  5. Fair is Fair

    This is the biggest bunch of you-know-what I've ever heard.

    Clinton has absolutely no authority to offer Seastak a job. So they say Rham Emanuel asked him to do it. But... Rham has no authority to do so either.

    IT HAD TO COME FROM OBAMA.

    Start the articles of impeachment.

    May 28, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  6. Obama the liar

    for the furure of America, will BOTH Clintons just please go away forever...and take Barry with you...

    May 28, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  7. Jon from Madison

    Rahm is representative for the administration, and Clinton was acting as a direct agent for Rahm. It doesn't matter how many degrees of separation there are. Clinton acted as an intermediary for the administration which constitutes an offer from the executive branch. That is a clear violation of the law.

    Impeach Obama. We can take this country back.

    May 28, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  8. Shucks

    Let them "demand" all they want. Their stong words only show the juvenile mentality of Washington. Sorry to all the juveniles out their if you were insulted.

    May 28, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  9. TangledThorns

    What a slimey WH administration we have. Now lets see if their stores match up.

    May 28, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  10. John

    Why isn't this story being reported on your TV feed? There are some illegal activities occurring at the white house. Please protect us from the bad guys. Thanks.

    May 28, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  11. tpbco

    No surprises here.

    This administration is really starting to make us wish for Jimmy Carter's return.

    Where's Tsah and the Dom Mom?

    May 28, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  12. Howard2, Seattle, WA

    Rahm must have figured that using Bill would keep his hands clean. NO WAY would he have done this on his own without consulting with Obama. Makes it just that much more of a CONSPIRACY to me. Probably time to get the FBI involved since they all could be prosecuted under the RICO act. They (Obama and Rahm) are probably both used to Chicago politics where anything goes

    May 28, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  13. clr

    NOTHING IMPROPER??? This is HIGHLY IMPROPER – if not illegal! If they are fessing up to this much, you know what they actually did was worse! And they can say it was a non-paying job to try to get around the legal charges, but a high ranking position – even if you believed for a second it would be unpaid – still has VALUE... and that is what the law restricts... Offering something of value to keep someone from running.

    May 28, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  14. Steph

    An unpaid position assuming he'd stay in Congress? What's wrong with that. If Sestak indicated that he wanted to become more involved, and he's definitely qualified, then I don't get what the issue is. He turned down the offer, and decided to run for Senate. I'm fairly certain someone with his qualifications gets asked to sit on panels, boards, etc... frequently. No one offered to pay him for anything...unlike W giving someone with Brownie, with all his horse show management experience, a job like Head of FEMA – now that's criminal!

    May 28, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  15. GI Joe

    Hmmmm – I think maybe similar things have happened all over the country in both parties for a couple hundred years.

    Is it similar to Tom DeLay re-districting the entire State of Texas in 2002 or 2003 so that republican influence would dictate to that state for decades to come?

    Who knows.

    I guess CNN, MSNBC, and FOX will have their hyped-up spin laid out for them this week-end. Easy job – just play over and over and over.

    May 28, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  16. Howard2, Seattle, WA

    You know, it really should not take the Obama administration any time at all to just tell the TRUTH. This DELAY is just stalling for time while they try to create a plausible LIE, and decide who to throw UNDER THE BUS.

    May 28, 2010 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  17. bryan

    What would the press do if Bush had done this?

    They offered him a bribe not to run...does it really matter that he turned down the bribe?

    May 28, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  18. Love to see the Right destroyed...

    These neo-cons have nothing better to do...who cares...jobs are offered by every administration...at least no one was fired like the 98 attorneys...

    May 28, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  19. get real

    Sestak, a democrat, was a Navy Admiral? What? I thought everyone in the military is a republican! That's what Rush and the idiots on Fox keep telling me.

    May 28, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  20. phillip Marlowe

    What a surprise a Clinton is involved in something shady. Like Hilary and the Rose Law firm papers that were sitting on her bed side table then just disappeared.

    May 28, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  21. Flipper

    " [The White House] backed [Specter] in his bid for a sixth term in the Senate, and was eager to clear the field of any primary opponents."

    Of course the Obama administration is going to engage in this Chicago-style tactic. Obama won his first election by getting his opponents thrown off the ballot. Emmanuel can't do anything, especially offering an executive position, without some sort of approval from Obama.

    And "nothing improper took place?" Wow!

    May 28, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  22. Paul from Phoenix

    Cornyism, nepotism, Chicago politics are alive and well in Obama's Administration.

    Change you can believe in!

    May 28, 2010 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  23. malabar

    Hahaha, imagine if it was Bush? the left has done itself a complete disservice by treating Bush the way they have. as u cry and whine and defend Clinton and Obama, please keep in mind that attacking Bush for the same or less (whether yesterday, today, or tomrw) is pointless and ur accusations and dmands 4 prosecution will fall on deaf ears bcuz its obvious that true justice and ethical behavior is not at all what u want or care for. again, my apologies to the moderator who has 2 read the endless, ignorant rants about Bush, Palin, Cheney, etc. . . regardless of them being the subject or not. the left cannot argue any issue on its own merit. all they knw is juvenile character assassination tactics. useless really with all the means we have to get the truth. now who is living in the dark ages?

    May 28, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  24. rachel

    But... But I thought Bill hated Obama why would bill stick his neck out for Obama?. This will be a dead issue now Bill had no power to give a job to Sestak in the White house lol.

    May 28, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  25. Dan J

    This is not good, the layers are peeling back to reveal a core that is more and more likely to be rotten. Bad timing on this, what with the largest oil spill in world history happening. One more domino, and I think that the midterms will be a complete Republican rout.

    May 28, 2010 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
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