Clinton was urged to talk to Sestak

White House concerned over Specter challenge

Joe Sestak challenged Arlen Specter for a US Senate seat in Pennsylvania and won the primary this month. Joe Sestak challenged Arlen Specter for a US Senate seat in Pennsylvania and won the primary
this month.
By Michael D. Shear and Philip Rucker
Washington Post / May 29, 2010

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WASHINGTON — At the urging of the Obama White House, President Clinton asked Representative Joe Sestak whether he would abandon his plans to challenge Senator Arlen Specter in a Pennsylvania Democratic primary if given an unpaid advisory position, according to a White House counsel report issued yesterday.

Clinton made the inquiries on behalf of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last summer, as Sestak began his challenge of Specter, a former Republican who had switched parties, White House Counsel Bob Bauer wrote.

Obama backed Specter’s reelection bid over Sestak, who remained in the primary and defeated the veteran senator this month.

Bauer concluded that nothing improper had taken place and that “allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack a basis in the law.’’

Contrary to allegations by many conservative pundits, he found that Sestak had not been offered the position of secretary of the Navy. Bauer concluded that discussions about “alternatives’’ to a Senate campaign by Sestak were proper.

“The Democratic Party leadership had a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight and a similarly legitimate concern about the congressman vacating his seat in the House,’’ Bauer wrote.

“There have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior administrations — both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals — discussed alternative paths to service. . . . Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.’’

Sestak confirmed the account. Speaking to reporters yesterday, he said he had spoken for less than a minute with Clinton about the possible appointment but never seriously considered dropping out of the race. He added that the advisory panel posts he might have had were in “either intelligence or defense.’’

He says he cut off Clinton, in whose White House he worked as a Navy officer.

Questions about a job offer first arose during the primary campaign early this year, when Sestak said publicly that someone in the Obama White House had offered him a job. Despite repeated questioning from reporters, Sestak refused for months to disclose what job was offered or by whom.

Though efforts to head off primary challenges are common, the White House remained tight-lipped about the incident for months, fueling suspicions.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs would say only that officials inside the administration had reviewed the situation and determined that nothing illegal had occurred. But that did not satisfy Obama critics, who insisted for months that the White House provide a more complete answer.

Moments after the report’s release, Representative Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican on the House’s lead investigative panel, renewed his call for an independent criminal investigation of the White House’s offer of an administration post to Sestak.

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, accused the White House of trying to play down Sestak’s claims and said the report left many questions unanswered.

“It is clear that this White House is not capable of policing itself and needs to open itself to an independent investigation,’’ Steele said in a statement.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.