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. jenn, philadelphia

    All the liberals here keep saying the administration did nothing wrong. The problem with that is, that when the story first broke in February, they denied an offer had even been made. Now they say one was made, but not illegal. This is the "change" Obama promised?

    May 28, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  2. Stymie

    This administration is a joke.

    May 28, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  3. PA Resident

    Does anyone else think that it is odd that Emmanuel would offer "Executive" branch service to a sitting Congressman in the "Legislative" branch? This administration really does ignore the Constitution.

    May 28, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  4. as an american

    blah blah blah, Impeach impeach.....where have i heard that before..oh yeah when everyone called for Bush's and Cheney's impeachment and jail time and when the same happened for clinton. IT NEVER HAPPENED TO THEM AND IT WON'T HAPPEN TO PRESIDENT OBAMA!!!!! So get over it and move on...oh and by the way it's not the president or the congress i'm worried about ruinning this country, it's the lazy, inept, selfish, "entitled," ignorant, non compromising Americans that are going to distroy this country.

    May 28, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  5. What?

    If Scooter and Cheney can basically get off for outing a covert CIA opp, if Cheney/Bush could award no-bid contracts to former employers for the Iraq oil, etc etc...

    If Clinton could commit perjury...

    If the Reagan Administration could wheel and deal and sell arms to Iran (terrorists by accounts even then)...

    Obama will be fine, just like the past SEVERAL administrations.

    May 28, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  6. Steven K

    This is the very type of situation that special prosecutors were created for. The fact that this Adminstration is refusing to appoint one is more telling then anything else. The Justice Department needs to step up and appoint one as soon as possible. I have no clue what happened, and in truth I hope the White House is telling the truth that nothing improper happened, but I do think they should step aside and let someone independent of the situation look into it. And unlike what happened last time, the prosecutor should stop when he finds the answer instead of keep digging.

    May 28, 2010 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  7. CSF

    Why are so many people surprised over the deals... It happens all the time! Whether its the Dems or the Repubs... Oh wow... can't imagine all the deals made in the Bush aministration Get real people!

    May 28, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  8. GI Joe

    The big problem seems to be that the dems aren't as secretive and devious as say -- Cheney, Rove, etc.

    Wonder how the next republican admin will handle all the scrutiny after this more open admin (not totally, but moreso than previous).

    ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    The shark (news media ratings) has tasted blood.

    May 28, 2010 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  9. Dave, Central Illinois

    Come on ObamaLibs, start making some excuses for this....

    May 28, 2010 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  10. CC

    How could the administration promote a traitor to be awarded for his action... Remenber this! Specter is royalty to no one, but himself. Everyone knew this, but the administration tried to reward him anyway. It's ashame to be an American nowaday!

    May 28, 2010 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  11. beebee

    Why is the stupid media making a big fuss about this even if it were true. It seems to be a fair game in politics to support a candidate of their choice. Is Mr. Seastak a winnable candidate or not only time will tell. In the meantime, media! please stop harping on trivial things. Ask the GOP leaders why have they become a party of whiners and nos and banding against everything the administration proposes.

    May 28, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  12. Al

    Wjhat a bunch of lying slime. Say what you want about GB 43-he can't hold a candle to Obama and the corruption that is running rampant in Obama's mafia. Prediction-Criminal thug Rahm Emanual will be made the scapgoat on the Sestak matter although many others are guilty. Good thing is that Obama will be out on his butt come inauguration day in January 2013. What a lying bunch of thieves. Mr transparanecy, share all with you, all above board. Joe Wilson was right. Obama is a LIAR.

    May 28, 2010 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  13. Dan

    Lies, lies, lies. Bill Clinton does not have the authority to offer a "position". The offer had to come from the White House. I expect my elected officials to fabricate better stories. Try again, please.

    May 28, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  14. Georgia, Joe

    This is a trumped up story with no substance. In the political world, and the corporate world, a person of trust is often sent to another person considering a new position or run for office to determine their real level of interest or motivation for seeking another position. The conversation between Clinton and Sestak is nothing out of the ordinary and not in the slightest bit wrong. Frankly this whole story line is a joke and should not be taking time or thought away from the real priorities of the Country.

    May 28, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  15. SherrieGG in Camarillo, CA

    Political strong-arm, eh?

    So he turned it down and what, they had him shot? Oh, wait, no they didn't, he ran in the primary and won. Some strong-arm.

    Just another attempt by the right wing whackoes to criminalize politics.

    May 28, 2010 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  16. Ross Foyee

    CNN loves Obama. Not true of a lot of the rest of the media. Obama fooled me and I voted for him, however now it is plain, that he only wants to be re-elected. To what, I don't know...that job of his would be punishment to anyone who really cared to do it with dignity! Maybe that is why he just wants to get re-elected...for Name only-to hell with dignity? Too many risks to be in that position for him...rather very NAIVE thinking indeed if re-election is his only wish!

    May 28, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  17. Jim

    Does ANYONE really believe that an offer of an unpaid advisory position to a former Admiral is what happened? That is preposterous! Sestak would be insulted by that offer, a high school graduate would know the position supposedly offered would be met with scorn AND if Rahm Emmanuel goes around offering people positions (personally or through an intermediary), the danger of an imbecile president has been furthered since the days of Bush.

    This will not go away because no one is going to believe it. Matthews, Navarette and Wolf may let this go but this will not go away. About a week and this is the best they can come up with proves this is nothing but a load of pig manure.

    May 28, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  18. Karo77

    what will Obama say to his kid in the shaving room when she asks him "what did you know, daddy, and when did you know it"?

    May 28, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  19. jayalan

    Sure.. Spin it all back onto Bush/Cheney – the oil spill is there fault, don't blame the Messiah for anything.

    Obama is as crooked as every other politician. Pull your heads out of the sand people and wake up.

    May 28, 2010 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  20. Truth, Justice and the American Way

    Cry, sniff... boo hoo! Whaaaaaaa! Ah, cry, sniff. We need Superman! Superman, where are you?

    May 28, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  21. fmlndn89

    Really this is the worst you could come up with. If you can't be impeached for starting two wars without a declaration from congress, then this surely doesnt' warrant all of this stupid talk from Republicans and their supporters. Let's talk about real crimes – BP oil spill – Can I get a Drill Baby Drill. Didn't think so.

    May 28, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  22. Art

    Obviously, the Republican National committee has demanded that all its members immediately submit unbiased comments order to make a BIG DEAL out of nothing.

    May 28, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  23. Tom F

    First, Clinton hatchet man James Carville goes ballistic on Obama. Now Bill Clinton is being set up as the fall guy in the Sestak case.

    Are we about to see a nasty presidential primary from the Democrats?

    May 28, 2010 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  24. Ron Koch

    No surprises here !!! Bill Clinton's honesty has never been in question. Obama's history of shady connections made Clinton an obvious partner in this attempt to bypass our electoral process. This administration is getting a bit desperate, it seems

    Ron Koch
    Pittsburgh, PA

    May 28, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  25. icegolfer

    Is there anyone associated with this addministration who is not a slimeball?

    May 28, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
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