May 28th, 2010
11:29 AM ET
5 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. phillip Marlowe

    yes a response is coming shortly as soon as we make sure all of our bases are covered and everyone is paid to keep their pie holes shut and we have our stories straight–that what you mean Obama?

    May 28, 2010 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  2. Larry

    I don't understand the infatuation Bush and Obama had for Specter.

    For those younger than me Specter first made the scene in the '60's as a lawyer for the Warren Commission after the assassination of Kennedy. Specter developed the bs "magic bullet" theory.

    I don't get it. Obviously Specter is a lot less than a straight shooter.

    May 28, 2010 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  3. Duck Fallas

    This is the worst thing to happen in the history of humanity. Let's impeach Clinton again.

    May 28, 2010 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  4. Mac

    Is it really that surprizing to the American people, one free from suite.
    Would be the conductor of this plan, to by wrong motive...

    Plan to convert a vote for the sole purpose of majority party influence.

    We should be ashame of this type of government and rest assured nothing will be done to address this behavior...

    In GOD We trust, all others should be monitored...

    May 28, 2010 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  5. Gary

    This smells to high heaven folks.

    May 28, 2010 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  6. CPAFlorida12

    The most transparent administration in history, how about the most corrupt administration in history. Not exactly the hope and change we were sold on.

    May 28, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  7. danno

    An "unpaid position" . Something here is missing. I find it hard to believe it would be without ANY compensation.

    May 28, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  8. Anonymous

    Sestak seems to be taking a little too much pleasure in this situation. So what if he was offered a non-paying position in the White House to stay out of the senate primary? It's not like he was being blackmailed. It was simply an incentive to keep him from challenging Specter. How many thousands of times has this exact same thing happened in the last 100 years in Washington. I think Sestak is using his own form of extortion here, trying to get into the "you owe me" column with the administration at the expense of the White House. Not very bright.

    May 28, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. Mike from VA

    Interesting. Tampering with an election is a felony but of course, don't expect to see anyone do anything about it...unless it involved a Republican.

    May 28, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  10. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    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.
    ______________________________________________________

    Bill Clinton does not work in the White House first of all. He may have been doing Rahm's will, but Rahm personally didn't offer anything. This is not a story.

    May 28, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. dancybear

    This is Chicago politics, corrupt and illegal. Obama should be impeached!!

    May 28, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. Chad

    Hmm...

    Sestak is a lying sack of crap.
    Clinton is a lying sack of crap.

    Sorry, not buying this.

    May 28, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  13. Mary B

    Like we are suppose to believe this deal...if it was Clinton....they would gladly have said that longgggg time ago.....it was his time to go under the bus....funny that rahm just happens to be out of the county as this is going down......is this the reason Clinton had to come to the wh the day before......

    May 28, 2010 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  14. If We Can Defeat Him On Healthcare, It Will Be His Waterloo

    Well CNN, I can sum up this bit of news with a four-letter word . . .
    Y-A-W-N

    May 28, 2010 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  15. Will Graham

    The more issues that Bill Clinton can wade into – the better!

    May 28, 2010 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  16. Former Republican

    So what's the big deal? The GOP just wants to make the Dems look bad. There's no issue here.

    May 28, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  17. Brett

    Is this really believable? This answer took months to develop and formulate – it looks shady to me. Sestak 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. Bill Clinton isn't in the White House. There's something rotten here.

    May 28, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  18. Angus McDugan

    Wow! Obama sticking his nose way to far into senate races. This is not Chicago where illegal behavior is accepted as normal politics.

    Gesh Obama! Why do I have to tell you this? Please put the Harvard degree to work. Would you?

    May 28, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  19. Dar

    Not Odumbo's administration, no way.
    Lets see how he gets out of this, who's fired.

    May 28, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  20. S Callahan

    Hysterical! I can't stop laughing...CNN could have written this story two weeks ago....such a farce! No one buys it! hahaha

    May 28, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  21. Jan

    Sestak only won the primary not the Senate seat.

    The fact that he has created so much controversy because of his remarks about being offered a job not to run against Spector may seem like good advice.

    He may just have put his foot in his own mouth

    May 28, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  22. Sniffit

    Wow...now it really won't matter that the law is clear and that nothing was done to break it. CNN needs to be more careful with the health of its conservative readers. When the GOPers read that first sentence above, which contains the names Emmanuel, Clinton and Specter all at once, they'll go blind with rage and suffer aneurisms simply from the proximity of those names, losing the small remaining specks of rational thought glowing coldly in their walnut-sized brains.

    May 28, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  23. Arby J

    So what's the problem? This kind of thing goes with politics. No harm, no foul, no blood, no amblulence, no crime, worry.

    May 28, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  24. gary

    Hmmm a corrupt advisor (Rahm) helping a corrupt President (Obama) enlist the help of a corrupt former president (Clinton) to bribe a congressperson (Sestak). This is an impeachable offense, in fact a felony punishable by jail time. Probably they will all get away with a mere slap on the wrist....the rich people see to be able to do anything they want.

    May 28, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  25. Martoon

    More back room dealings by the Democrats and Obama administration. Unfortunately, Obama has the Anti-Midas touch.

    May 28, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
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