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. lady in pa

    I voted for Sestak, even though Specter had been one of the only republicans that I ever voted for before. The media and Mr. Sestak view his victory as one against the establishment. On the contrary. Most people I know voted for him, because they viewed him as the true democrat. Specter looked more like the opportunist. When Specter changed parties, the democrats, including the president, had to supprt him. Here was a veteren republican coming over to the other side. Could they have rejected him? I'm a little sorry I voted for Sestak. I thought it was a vote FOR the democratic party, not against it.

    May 28, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  2. Michael

    Clinton was the best president of the last half century... wake up.

    May 28, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  3. PM

    Where are all of the conspiracy theorists for this story? Usually i read an article on CNN and then see all of the Evil Republicans and all their corruption posts people submit. The White House asks former President Clinton (a person with no connection to scandals or bending laws) to informally "talk" to a Sestak about a 'special position' if he would stay in the House, aka don't run against Spector.. please, if your liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican I hope your smart enough to see a bribe. If you defend the people for working this system like this (which is illegal) you can never again make comments about corruption because you are endorsing it. Also, if this isn't a political payoff, I have ocean front property to sell you in Kansas.

    If both sides don't demand honesty and that THEIR government follow the rule of law, then you get what you ask for.

    May 28, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  4. awaitingmoderationby CNN

    When you need a good lie, you turn the best at it, hence the use of Clinton the lyingest man to ever be president. Obozo is trying to catch up to him of course. Funny how, Bush appointed and independent investigator and the lying, crooked corrupt and failed community organizer uses in house investigations to declare himself "pure." Of course the CNN type media will go along with it. I remember how that pretty Vanderbilt boy was standing in New Orleans in his pressed blue jeans condemning Bush for lack of action during Katrina, 72 hours after the storm hit. It has now been 38 days since the oil spill and Obozo is "springing" in to action and neither CNN or the corrupt and slimy president has paid any attention to Tennessee flooding.

    May 28, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  5. Amerfirst

    When Obama took office he refused to go after the previous administration for the myriad breeches of law that they committed while in office. His stance at the time was .. I want to look forward, not backward!
    Lets see how generous the Republicans are with him now that they have something to sink their teeth into...

    May 28, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  6. Sam Ellison

    Blah Blah Blah, my guy didn't win so I'm angry! He should be investigated for this minor issue he's only remotely connected to! snarl!

    May 28, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  7. Bill

    Now that some assortment of truth is coming out and a man known to bee willing to purger himself is mixed in the mess, people will come to their senses and vote for Toomey.

    May 28, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  8. Joanne

    Grow up people. It is Washington not Sesame Street. Did you think the change in Washington would politicians sitting around singing Kumbaya? That is not how things get done.

    May 28, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  9. David

    Bill will probably say, "it depends on what the definition of 'was, 'was'.

    May 28, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  10. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    There is nothing improper here. Sestak himself stated on May 27, 2009 he was considering enter the race but didn't announce he was entering until August 4, 2009. This is about the GOP grasping for straws and falling into a Democrat trap again.

    May 28, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  11. Caitiesnanny

    When all you have to do is tell the truth, why would you need a couple of days before you released the truth? Had to run it by your legal counsel first?

    May 28, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  12. johnny fitz

    So the RepubliCANTS want another shot at Obama. They couldn't beat him in a fair election, they couldn't stop his legislative agenda through the accepted processes, so they do what Repubs do best-try sleaze, lies, and character assassination. What else would you expect from a morally bereft and ethically devoid bunch of scum?

    May 28, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  13. Peter

    I love how the Republicans now are behind governement intervention when before the oil spill govt was all evil and stupid. So what they are saying now is that Obama is at fault because the goverment should have pushed BP aside, a private corporation since the goverment would have done a better job stopping the spill. It makes me laugh, if this would have been argued before the spill republicans would have said this is socialism.

    May 28, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  14. The King

    If this is the best the GOP can do to try to smear the President, then he's home free. This isn't even illegal, though that wouldn't stop the right from smearing the guy the people elected to clean up after the worst president in history, and the GOP policies that has very nearly ruined this country.

    May 28, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  15. Judy

    Yes, quit talking about Bush/Cheney. Remember this guy was going to do things differently..."change". What a disappointment. Really nothing has changed! He will get away with this and all other problems. He is the teflon prez just like Clinton!

    May 28, 2010 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  16. Uncle JJ

    Clinton met secretly with Sestek?

    Hope he didnt leave any white stains on Mr. Sestek's suit!!!!

    May 28, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  17. M. Westenberger

    Throw Rahm in prison with his buddy Blago, and impeach Obama. They are crooks. How Nixonian.

    May 28, 2010 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  18. Vet. Vet

    Its amazing reading a lot of the blogs, the repugs and Obama haters are salavating over nothing saying, Oh we finally got somthing, throwing out all kind of hypes, its call politics people. If you really want to see some criminal activities, the President should allow the investigation of the past activites of Cheney and company , Yes I know that want happen because they may find something . As usual since the President was elected, The haters continue to have on blinders and tunnel vision.

    May 28, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  19. wileysee

    and here they are from Chicago: Al Capone, Frank Nitti and the White house bad boys. Spinnin stories, tellin lies and takin the 5th. Where's Elliot Ness and Melvin Purvis when you need then. It just keeps getting better & better from this administration, They make Nixon look like a saint.

    May 28, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  20. Rob

    Even the President's supporters have to admit that there is something fishy here. I simply do not understand why Mr. Obama cannot answer straightforward questions. Why does he have to defer to some vague "everything will be fully explained....later" type of response. It seems that Bil Clinton was duped into doing Emanuel's bidding. The Clintons should stay as far away as they can from this President. Hillary would have been a far better choice., given Obama's blundering. This administration has been one disappointment after another. Truly sad, given what we all had hoped for,

    May 28, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  21. Steven P

    King Obama? No. President Obama, and not above the law.

    May 28, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  22. Willy Brown

    Sure he did. Democrats don't lie...............................................

    May 28, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  23. b0bc4t

    not business as usual .....

    their game evolves,
    just like the political climate

    it's pay NOT to PLAY ....

    it's take it and like it ...
    we know what's best for ALL

    fillibusters are a mere hiccup,
    if you consider the Dems can't get a firm yes ...... without deals either!

    someone pinch me ... make it all a bad dream

    Change ... don't believe it!
    (no change left in my pockets)

    May 28, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  24. Jude

    Why am I not surprised...oh and lookie lookie Rham Emanuel is involved..shocking.....so much for transparency............

    May 28, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  25. Jude

    Slick willy is married to the Secretary of State....hmmmmmm
    If a CEO is married and his wife places a trade on material non public information information of her husbands company stock they BOTH get in trouble......hmmmmmm sounds like insider politics. but wait that couldnt be could it becuase this is a "transparent" administration isnt it....what a joke!

    May 28, 2010 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
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