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. Altee11

    Bribe: persuade (someone) to act in one's favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement.

    Is it against the law to compete for someone's services? If so, then how in this situation does that occur?

    May 28, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  2. Scott in Atlanta

    Ummm... No law was broken. If this constitutes a broken law, then the last administration should be serving life sentences. And that's just for stuff they did in the first couple of weeks of their administration. So, come on, and open up this can of worms if you want to repubs... You'll lose.

    May 28, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  3. joe

    For all you Minn people talking, no where do you say that anyone offered the now governor a job. Just asked him not to run. This was not only asking him not to run, it was offering a bribe. The two are not the same. So all you liberals get in line, it is time for a special hearing to getto the bottowm ofthis. What more can you ask for , slick Willy( I never had sex with that woman) and Rahm who is doingthe bidding for Obama. Typical Chicago politics. Dont you love it>>> You will never see this story on MSNBC(Modern Socialist National Braodcasting Company) Time to IMPEACH

    May 28, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  4. EricD

    ok.. what am i missing? The administration attempted to prevent one democrat from running against another democrat, by offering him a job or a position on a committee.. This is common practice amongst both parties for the past few decades??? so whats the deal? seriously, what am i missing? They offer congressman pork barrel, committee seats, or whatnot for thier votes on any number of pieces of legistlation, as they do for the presidential elections. Offering the other candidates the vice presidency role, cabinet positions, or whatnot for them to back out and/or endorse their opponent???? THIS IS COMMON PRACTICE!!!!!.. stick to the real issues, OMG.

    May 28, 2010 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  5. Ramses

    Stop witch hunting, get on with more important thigs to do. It makes no difference whether Sestak was offered a position in the WH or not. He did what he wanted to do, won & will challenge a Republican candidate in November. Some Democrats & Republicans should realize it is over, Move on, vote Democratic.

    May 28, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  6. A Kickin' Donkey

    Yet another attempted Republican SMEAR attack fails...

    A Felony had been committed .... NOT

    Impeach him ! .... CAN'T

    I hope he fails .... WON'T

    It [healthcare] will be his waterloo ... WASN'T

    It [BP OIl Well Rupture] will be his Katrina ... NO

    Government Takeover of Auto Industry ... WRONG

    If I was President and I was OPPOSED at every single turn ... independent of what the facts are ... I would look to protect every House and Senate seat I could.

    May 28, 2010 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  7. ironman

    why dont slick willy and his old lady just go back under there rock were they belong no body cares what they have say

    May 28, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  8. Tony 140

    Are they so arrogant to think we are this stupid? Guess you need to be an Ivy League lawyer to convince yourself you are above the law.

    May 28, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  9. Rich

    To bob ramos, last time I looked bush hasn't been president for over 1 1/2 years. This is about Obama and his LACK of transparency. let play fair now.

    May 28, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  10. Just Like Bush

    In past years.....Bush waited till all the legislators went home, then he made his appointments....why do the GOP'ers in this blog act like every past GOP president was pure and unbiased in all their actions?

    Its funny the Tea Party can intimidate other GOP candidates from running the primaries and there's nothing wrong with THAT huh?

    This sounds more like SESTAK should switch parties to the GOP since for some reason he started all this garbage about a simple conversation.

    You would think the small minds in the GOP would be more worried about Sestak winning as a Democrat....or is the GOP really trying to get rid of SESTAK?

    This is probably the GOP putting up ANOTHER diversion-smoke screen to hide the fact that they have no plans, no ideas, basically nothing of value to offer us citizens other than the 'same old same old' back to the 1950's GOP glory days...NO THANKS!

    May 28, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  11. Dee

    PUHLEEZE...if Bush and his POSSE got away with much worse than this and didn't get impeached, then Obama has NOTHING to worry about other than the bitter folks that want him out of office for ANYTHING....

    Funny how peoples morals seem to develop when someone you don't like is in charge...lol!!!!

    May 28, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  12. mms55

    i knew it wouldn't matter to the republicans what the truth was, just read the post lol.they are so ticked that this didn't pan out the way they wanted it to lmao!

    May 28, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  13. Andagain

    Scapegoat, much? That'll get the ones "in charge" off the hook.

    May 28, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  14. justsayin

    do you really blame them for trying to keep the 2 seats they had that were both relative shoe-ins for reelection! do you really think republicans have never did interparty maneuvering like this. wake up. I bet there was a bunch of this stuff in upstate new york last year before they lost that seat because of infighting. besides Clinton is a private citizen at this point and not affiliated with this administration and would have had no authority to offer anyone anything. but would certainly be well positioned to play an inquisitive game of "what-if"on behalf of the party. very schrewd if you ask me! it was worth a try to avoid messy primaries and an attempt to keep the promises they made to specter.

    May 28, 2010 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  15. Jim Garrison

    Notice how this is all revealed just before the long weekend? That is so the story will get less attention than it deserves next week. Funny how that always seems to happen with this administration.
    This lame excuse that the former President was involved seems to preclude the notion that Sestak himself said that someone in the administration made the offer. We are through the looking glass here, people! Sestak lied or administration did. There is no magic bullet that can be avoided here. (Sorry for the "JFK" references!)

    May 28, 2010 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  16. Naqib

    Blackmail and Bribes...

    Chicago style at its finest...

    Change you can believe in baby

    May 28, 2010 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  17. dennis

    gee, starting to sound like the closing episodes of 24....the X sleezy president shows up to "save" the current president who is sinking slowly into the abyss. So Obama is having a good month....AZ, oil spill, and now ObamaGate.....gg

    May 28, 2010 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  18. sheena clark canada

    A third grader knows these things go one allthe time in politics and business.
    Words like Impeachment, Chicago thugs, illegal and criminal plus the resst of the vile comments made by most of you just make you look like red necked angry gullible sheep.
    Be careful what you ask for as I am certain if this is taken to the extreme there may be other inquiries – into the Republican administration, party etc – and then you will really know corruption.
    CNN ought to be ashamed of its reporting, no only with this but also the oil spill. The same thing over and over and over again from all the so called reporters (Wolf, Rick, John and Anderson – all of whom I once admired) delving into matters they no nothing about with the same interviews etc. It is CNN who is inciting a lot of the frustration and anger one sees by the very way they are reporting.
    Even most of the "real" experts say there is no point in playing the balme game. But CNN just goes on and on and on......sickening.

    May 28, 2010 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    LOL Bribery statutes have NEVER been interpreted to apply to "horsetrading." NEVER. And guess what? Every single president/administration back to Washington has done it. If you want to make credible arguments criticizing it, comment on the fact that it's the equivalent of an ethics fart, but jumping the shark to claims of crime and impeachment just makes it so that the thinking portion of the public tunes you out.

    May 28, 2010 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  20. tony

    Rove and Cheney called Tim Pawlenty to urge him not to run against Norm Coleman, the party's favored candidate for the Senate seat from Minnesota in 2002. Norm Coleman became the senator in 2002, Pawlenty ran for governor instead in the same year and won. Should we impeach Rove and Cheney?

    May 28, 2010 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  21. mat marat

    I dont see anything wrong with it... you think it is like bush and tony blair setting up a multi-billion dollar scam with the Saudis and BAE... not quite...

    May 28, 2010 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  22. A realist

    I'm not going to stand up and say it is right, but we are being extremely naive if we don't believe this stuff happens all the time. The two corrupt political parties do a ton of behind the scenes bartering and bribery to get an old friend nominated or an old foe pushed out. There is nothing illegal about this particular situation. However it continues to reinforce that the worst thing about our political system today is the unbridled power of political parties.

    May 28, 2010 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  23. johnnyhouse

    If it had been in the Bush White House it would have been bribery.

    May 28, 2010 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  24. jack wilkerson

    "Slick Willy' and Obama: what a good team they make!! Let's get the story straight before we talk to the public. My,My My.

    May 28, 2010 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  25. Brian

    Transparency and honesty were the hype and the hope. Hope is quickly fading

    May 28, 2010 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
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