(CNN) – Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is keeping pressure on the White House amid revelations administration officials attempted to dissuade certain Democrats from launching Senate primary campaigns.
“From day one of this current flap involving Congressman Joe Sestak and now Andrew Romanoff, the White House efforts to deny, obfuscate, and mislead have only served to raise suspicions even further,” Steele says in the weekly Republican radio and internet address.
“If Rahm Emanuel has been offering government goodies to inconvenient politicians threatening Democrat incumbents, then it’s time for him to resign,” Steele also says. “If it comes out that the President knew about any of it, then we have a larger problem.”
Steele’s comments come in the wake of a White House counsel memo that revealed White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had enlisted the help of former President Bill Clinton to offer to Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak an unpaid position on a presidential advisory board if he did not challenge incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter. Sestak declined the offer and defeated Specter in the May 18 primary.
Meanwhile, a Colorado Senate candidate who is challenging Sen. Michael Bennet in the Democratic primary said last week that a senior White House aide suggested last year that three administration jobs might be open to him if he abandoned plans to run against Bennet. But the candidate, former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, also noted that he was never offered a position by the White House.
Congressional Republicans say the conversations might be in violation of a string of federal laws –including 18 U.S.C. § 600 (Promise of employment or other benefit for political activity), 18 U.S.C. § 595 (Interference by administrative employees of Federal, State, or Territorial Governments) and the Hatch Act (An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities) – and have called for an independent investigation.
Full Steele remarks after the jump:
“President Barack Obama promised that he “won’t stop fighting to open up government,” and that he would have “the most transparent administration in history.” Really?
“Of course, it’s one thing to keep that promise when you think it’ll help you politically. The real test of a man’s word is if he keeps it when it’s inconvenient, embarrassing or potentially damaging. On this test, the President and his people have failed.
“There’s a reason we have a law that prohibits Federal officials from offering things of value to people for political gain. It’s called transparency. And the White House’s efforts to use federal appointments to entice candidates out of competitive Democratic primaries goes directly against the Obama Administrations claims of openness and transparency.
“From day one of this current flap involving Congressman Joe Sestak and now Andrew Romanoff, the White House efforts to deny, obfuscate, and mislead have only served to raise suspicions even further.
“Three months ago, when Congressman Sestak claimed the White House offered him a job in return for dropping his primary challenge against Democrat incumbent Arlen Specter, the White House flatly denied it.
“After Sestak refused to recant his version of events, the White House finally conceded that some conversation happened but their message was “trust us, it wasn’t inappropriate, so move along, nothing to see here.”
“This exoneration-by-fiat didn’t pass the laugh test. It’s not up to the White House to judge the ethics of their behavior – that right is reserved for the American people once all the facts are on the table. So the demand for these facts continued.
“After three months of intense political pressure, we were finally served with a memo from the President’s lawyer, admitting that, contrary to previous denials, in fact, the White House did enlist former President Bill Clinton to offer the Congressman an allegedly unpaid position.
“However, the memo raises far more questions than it answers.
“First, the law doesn’t prohibit offers of only paid positions. So, offering the Congressman an unpaid position does nothing to exonerate Bill Clinton or White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
“Second, Sestak wouldn’t be able to accept a position on a Presidential advisory board and remain in Congress anyway, which casts doubt about whether this was really the job the White House offered.
“Third, the memo claims multiple conversations between President Clinton and Mr. Sestak during June and July of 2009. But Congressman Sestak insisted four times, just on Tuesday, that there was only one brief conversation. So who’s lying?
“Fourth, the memo alleges that President Obama knew nothing of all of these conversations.
“Now, why would the White House enlist the help of such a high-profile surrogate like former President Bill Clinton – on “multiple” occasions, without the knowledge of President Obama – for months-long negotiations over such a low-profile, unpaid position, and all with a Congressman who couldn’t even accept the job anyway?
“And now we know that this is only part of a larger pattern of backroom, Chicago-style politics. Andrew Romanoff, who’s challenging Democrat incumbent Michael Bennet for the Colorado Senate Democrat nomination, was offered a choice of one of three jobs by Rahm Emanuel’s deputy Jim Messina if he would drop out of the primary.
“Again, the White House first denied the allegations when they came from anonymous Administration whistle-blowers. But once the actual email from Messina was released by Romanoff, who probably didn’t like being called a liar by the White House, the story changed: again, the jobs were offered, but nothing inappropriate happened.
“After all of the stonewalling and denying, what is the White House’s latest defense? It was just business as usual.
“Enough is enough. If Rahm Emanuel has been offering government goodies to inconvenient politicians threatening Democrat incumbents, then it’s time for him to resign. If it comes out that the President knew about any of it, then we have a larger problem. And, if offering political appointments in exchange for sitting out of a campaign is the President’s proposal for “job-creation,” then we’re in for more economic misery.
“The time has come for more than just self-exonerating claims from the President’s lawyer. The Department of Justice must step in and assign an impartial referee, either in the form of a special investigator or an independent counsel, who can sort out the facts and answer the burning question – what did the White House offer to Sestak and Romanoff, who authorized the offer, who else knew about it and what was the expected trade-off for accepting the offer?
“The President promised transparency. All we have right now is a series of transparent cover-ups. So much for “change you can believe in.”