May 28th, 2010
11:29 AM ET
12 years ago

Clinton acted as White House intermediary on Sestak offer

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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. Junebug

    This is so funny. Tony on CNN, the World Wide Leader in News, comments "How can this just be comming out!". Uh aren't YOU the news agency? Isn't that your job? Fox has been talking about this for weeks. The only reason CNN now brings it up is because FOX"S Major Garrett (reporter), asked Pres. Obama about the Sestak issue. Maybe CNN needs to hire ACTUAL reporters. We'll see how this all plays out. The one thing I thought was "different" about Obama was the "change" of "politics as usual" and the voters believed it. Well, it is actually different, it is Chicago politics. CNN, hire REAL reporters or get out of the business.

    May 28, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  2. Joe

    This is certainly playing out as an OBAMA-GATE story. It is clearly a crime, just like Watergate for Nixon, if you induce someone to abandon a candidacy by offering him a position, any position, in the White House or the Obama Administration, PERIOD! It won't be long someone will be blamed but not Obama, because he will say that is Bush's fault!.

    May 28, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  3. Robb

    Two things can get a President impeached. One is treason and two is bribery.
    I am sure Bill had been sent by somebodya with the authority to offer a high ranking position. It appears it was Rahm or Barack or both. Furthermore offering someon an unpaid position does not make any sense. I am sure it was a paid position and quite high ranking.
    This guy is Richard Nixon all over again but with less experience than Nixon.

    May 28, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  4. Gordiduk

    Are you kidding me? How come this is not the top of CNN's breaking news. The President of the United States can't answer a simple question yesterday in the press conference and then has to have a statement released the following day which says Bill Clinton was the one who offered a job in the Administration which would be a nonpaying position for Sestak to drop out of the race against Spector. No news here. Right CNN??? Wow, investigative reporting is dead. Checking out an obviously bogus explanation from the White House must be beneath you. Truley unbelievable.

    May 28, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  5. Mike

    Anyone who believes the offer to Sestak was an unpaid advisory position to nobamby to not run for the US Senate is to stupid to breathe. Anyone who believes this please let me know, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you plus the Empire State Building.

    May 28, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  6. Angus McDugan

    One more thing... Don't think this did not come down from Obama. No body would be offering a high ranking staff position unless Obama OKed it first.

    Mr. Obama, Since I am having to tell you everything, drop me a line if you want me to help you out directly instead of doing it in a reactionary method using this blog.

    May 28, 2010 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  7. ETM

    Yet another attempt by the loony right to try to create a scandal where no wrongdoing exists. Case closed.

    May 28, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  8. Fred

    This is what "Global Statesman" Bill Clinton is doing these days? Running around DC as an errand boy doing Rohm Emanuel's dirty work? Impressive.

    May 28, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  9. Carl

    The author of this article apparently doesn't understand the difference between "refute" and "deny". Obama didn't refute anything...he denied. This whole matter reeks of impropriety at the very least, and most likely someone (Rahm Emanuel?) committed a felony offense. Now they're hiding behind Bill Clinton? Let's hope the free press (it fhere still is such a thing) demands better answers than this. This is an absolute travesty in the way our government spins their stories to keep the public at bay.

    May 28, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  10. Steve (the real one)

    You know Tthe late Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis, Jr , and Gene Kelly could not tap dance any bettter than this! Somebody is circling the wagons so hard, they are getting dizzy! All this for an (rumored)unpaid position? Circle the wagons boys, circle the wagons!

    May 28, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  11. Fed Up

    High-level unpaid position. Wow! I would take that any day over being a Senator and getting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, plus free health care for the rest of my life, plus all office expenses for the rest of my life, etc, etc, etc. What could possibly be wrong here? Sounds fishy to me. There had to be some compensation that would come down the pike.

    May 28, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  12. Altee11

    People have competing job offers all of the time,so what is wrong with this.
    Sestak wanted one job as a Senator. He was offered a different job because a business partner wanted him in a different role. He turned it down and went on to the third interview (the general election). What's wrong here? This sounds like a typical workplace competition.

    May 28, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  13. dan smith

    Wondered how they would cover it up.

    May 28, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  14. Interesting

    So it took 3 months for them to come up with this cover story? I didn't know Bill Clinton was in the business of extending job offers for non-paid jobs on behalf of the White House.

    I have to give some credit to CNN though. This is the first "reporting" they have done on the story and it only took 3 writers to parrot a press release. The three writers might want to look up the meaning of "alleged" as they used it on the first sentence. This was actually a confirmation of an allegation.

    May 28, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  15. GOP is bad for America

    Just the GOP trying to make a big deal out of nothing. Here in my state of MN it is well known that Karl Rove called to dissuade Tim Pawlenty from running against Norm Coleman. When that didn't work, Cheney called Pawlenty and then he dropped out. Who knows what Cheney said, but one can hazard a good guess. This is nothing new and not a big deal. The GOP should be focusing on our actual problems like the environment, the economy, etc., but of course they have no new answers or plans for those things (only the failed policies of the past all over again), so all they do is try to cause problems for the Obama administration which is actually trying to do something. The GOP could care less what is best for America - only what they hope will get them back in power.

    May 28, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  16. Joan

    How is this any different than an incident that was reported and confirmed regarding Tim Pawlenty wanting to run for a US Senate seat in 2002? He was called by Karl Rove who tried to sway him from running against Norm Coleman but he wasn't convinced. Then VP Cheney called him and requested he not run so he didn't. Love to have that phone conversation on tape. I fail to see the difference except that in the Republican incident, a sitting Vice President was involved. That seems more serious to me.

    May 28, 2010 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  17. joe J

    these people just don't learn, once a snake in the grass always will be snakes in the grass. Vote them all out by 2012

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

    Lies, Lies and more Lies...what a crock this story is but I guess if you need to put out a good lie, who ya gonna call? Bill Clinton, of course.

    President Pinocchio is pulling out all the stops to save his skin. What an incompetent buffoon we have as our president. Democrats should never be elected into power again.

    May 28, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  19. Shar

    Well – Rahm would not get his hands DIRECTLY DIRTY.
    Chicago Thugs know that – – – – – Ask BLAGO!!
    B.O. and Rahm and "Blue-Dress Clinton"!!! Uck.
    What a group.
    Carville said in The Washington Post today, "If he (B.O.) had one bullet and James Carville and (BP chief executive) Tony Hayward were sitting there, who would he shoot? I wouldn't take my chances," Carville said.
    Now Carville is A DEMOCRAT and he knows how Thuggy they are!!
    Scary. Because Carville is telling the truth about B.O.'s Katrina, B.O. is not happy – but to make such a RADICAL parallel was telling by Carville. Very telling. These people are in the pocket of the FED, UNIONS, RADICALS! And they are thuggy.
    Oh – and I think it is amusing that Rahm is out of the country – how convenient.

    May 28, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  20. DPWEA

    Sure hope the Republicans don't win majorities in November, because this sounds impeachable.

    May 28, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  21. Mike in SA

    That they offered jobs that were unpaid is of no consequence as far as the law goes. The laws surrounding this specifically note that it is a felony to offer something "of value" to manipulate a race. A prestigious presidential appointment (even if unpaid) certainly is something "of value". There is plenty of case precedence here, so it's not going to be ambiguous at all.

    The WH has wanted to rid itself of Rahm for a while. Watch, he's going to be the fall guy.

    May 28, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  22. mad155155

    and under the bus goes Bill...

    May 28, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  23. Riley

    I smell trouble for Obama!!!!

    May 28, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  24. Billtown

    Way to go, Joe. This is why we voted you in over Arlen. Keep it honest!

    May 28, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  25. ToldUSo

    Anyway u slice/spin this it is just disgusting. I believe this Admin thinks they are above the law and above accountability.

    To try to throw an election in the WH house favor is really reprehensible. But I'm sure the Obamabots that frequent this site will always find a way to defend with the usually "somebody (Bush), else did it so why can't Obama do it too" argument.

    Hey morons, I thought you voted for CHANGE!!!

    May 28, 2010 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
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