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. Carl

    This "response" from the White House is conspicuous in the failure to address what President Obama's role was in these discussions. Did Obama or did Obama not give tacit approval to Bill Clinton to have this discussion with Sestak? Come on "free press"...how about asking some REAL questions for a change?

    May 28, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  2. bobmou

    Why is it that a Clinton always seems to be at the center of a shady deal??

    May 28, 2010 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  3. oscar

    When it was bush doing real crimes .. the right was silent ... now that there is nothing .. the right is making noise... that is why i have no political party... lets take care of the problems that we face ... do not continue the time wasting finger pointing/blame game... it is so frustrating...

    May 28, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  4. Grace

    Yeah, sure. Does the White House really think that we are going to buy that? "Sestak was offered a high-level but UNPAID position", and according to Sestak, it was "on the condition that he not mount a primary challenge to Specter." It's absurd, and there should be an investigation on EXACTLY what was said, and what took place. When the President says, "I can assure the public that nothing improper took place" then we're supposed to just take his word for it? We saw it throughout the election-bribes offered to congressmen for their votes, and now this. The corrupt Chicago-style politics (reminiscent of Blagovich) that Obama and his staff have brought into the highest level of office is shameful and must be stopped. Out with corruption-vote them all out when their time it up.

    May 28, 2010 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  5. SocialismBad

    3 months and this is the BEST LIE they could concoct??!! So is Sestak a multi-millionaire that can work without pay?

    The Justice Dept. and FBI REALLY need to investigate this IMMEDIATELY! The more that comes out the more it becomes obvious crimes were committed.

    May 28, 2010 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  6. Joe-Wilmington, DE

    Although I have the highest degree of respect for President Obama, anything with the Clinton name attached to it just does not pass the smell test with me.

    May 28, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  7. lemonfemale

    So now they are saying "unpaid". Well, "consideration" does not have to be in money to qualify as bribery. Sestak is being so coy here in refusing to give any details that I wonder why he said anything in the first place. Even by this little he has raised the question of a possible impeachable offense. So why not reveal everything? I had thought he was making it all up but the WH has confirmed a little bit. What is Sestak hiding? And why?

    May 28, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  8. Hammerer

    If you believe this you probaply still believe all of the campaign rhetoric that the obama regime and the media fed the American voters in 2008. But they sold obamacare and the bailouts, handouts and other assorted schemes and alot of people are still buying.

    May 28, 2010 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  9. LMcKevitt

    If this had been the case, they could have said it at any time. It's obvious the lights were burning late in the White House to figure out a way to get Obama and Emanuel off the hook. Emanuel even takes a strategic trip to Israel while all this is going on. Neither Bill nor Hillary do something for nothing. I expect some lavish reward–which the public will never know about–will go to them for their "service to their country."

    May 28, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  10. Peace

    If I remember well, before the then lone Secretary Cregg(Republican) was tapped to work in the Obama administration, there was an agreement with GOP that he must be replaced by Republican. And this was implemented. I do not see where Sestak's deal differed from the Cregg one.

    May 28, 2010 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  11. Joni States

    So, are we now going to get more of that old "it depends on what "is" is"? It's a shame on this country to allow democraps to get away with this kind of law breaking, but certainly would not allow a republican to do the same thing without going to prison.

    May 28, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  12. RCasson

    Nice try cons. You lose again. Obama and his administration did nothing wrong.

    May 28, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  13. Karo77

    So, does this mean Hilary has no more debt? Bill has nothing to lose–he already has a questionable reputation-This seems like the old excuse by Obama–took weeks for him to say "the dog ate my homework!" Hilary can now give all of her newly acquired riches to the poor to stand by her words of the "rich" having too much money".I must say, I am disappointed in the Clintons–my previous support for Hilary just disappeared. Of course she knew about this–it was her money that needed to be paid off.....

    May 28, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  14. SC

    This is simply a Republican witch-hunt.

    May 28, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  15. David S.

    Dont believe a word of it, if Clinton offered the job why did they wait so long to state that? The reason was there was a lot of conjouring up of a cover story to find someone now in the employ of the White House.

    May 28, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  16. Gremar

    So Emanuel had Bill Clinton extend the bribe? Does being one step away from an illegal act not equate to being an accessory of the same crime? Is Bill Clinton so naive to know that this is an improper offer or is he just as corrupt as Emanuel? How does the Obama have the balls to say nothing improper was done? A BRIBE is a BRIBE is a BRIBE.

    May 28, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  17. David S.

    Oops meant to say NOT in the employ of the White House.

    May 28, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  18. Bill

    Pretty sure Nixon's White House counsel also released a report saying nothing improper had occurred in his administration concerning the Watergate burglary.

    May 28, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  19. Cat

    If the white house recommended it, then they are the guilty party. Just like manson suggested murder to his minions. He is in jail now and they should be too.

    May 28, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  20. Robert F.

    It is always unfortunate when information that could have been useful pre-election comes out and in this case lends to the notion that Sestak lied about being promised appointment as SECNAV. This now apparent lie, lends credence to his dismisal from the Naval Service, which he claims was his intended retirement.

    It now appears to be Sestak's PR machine made all of the voters 'think' he was offered a significant postion to 'buy him off' not to run against Specter, in fact the position 'offered' through intermediataries was nothing close to that position, like so many others he spun the truth and the White House remained silent to correct it prior to the election.

    This factual information could have esily placed the spotlight back on Sestak and perhaps changed the results. He had my vote in November, but now I will support the Toomey bid, which is much more in tune with the current issues facing this nation and not making sensational claims to stir on the voters.

    You lied Joe, plain and simple...you tarnished your stars and the honor of the service you served for 31 years...ashame on you!

    May 28, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  21. Rigoman3

    Sestak has REPEATEDLY said that someone serving in the white House offered him a position. Last I checked, Clinton wasn't serving in the administration. Sorry folks, I'm an independent however this simply doesn't pass the smell test.

    May 28, 2010 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  22. Zaggs

    They can scream unpaid position till they're blue in the face, but what the white house did was violate 18 USC 595 of the federal code. It does not matter if the position was paid or unpaid. Rahm Emanuel used his "....official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate....". That also means it does not matter that it was Clinton who did the asking. He only did so at the Behest of Rahm. Federal crime committed, time for hte "most open and transparent white house" to come forward with the plea deal.

    May 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  23. Seth

    This is a huge crime – The White House wanted Sestak to not run against Spector, in exchange they will allow him to do unpaid public service for the American people.
    I don't understand how Sestak could refuse that kind of bribe – I am sure they would have given him lunch.

    May 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  24. PrdWolverine

    Clinton is a scumbag, and birds of a feather ....

    May 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  25. aughwick

    What happened to transparency ??? The White House is the most arrogant, and obnoxious, in history !!!! What happened to Pelosi draining the swamp ??? Now Bill is in the mix with Sestak the Obama administration will do anything and everything to push there MARXIST agenda. You have tax cheat Geitner hide the money Charles Rangel, and don't forget the judge with EMPATHY instead of going by the constitution.

    May 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
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