Report: White House Used Bill Clinton To Approach Sestak About “Unpaid, Advisory Position”

The New York Times has just broken a story about the Joe Sestak job controversy that puts the entire story in a new light:

President Obama’s chief of staff used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to see if Representative Joe Sestak would drop out of a Senate primary if given a prominent, but unpaid, advisory position, people briefed on the matter said Friday.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, asked Mr. Clinton to explore the possibilities last summer, according to the briefed individuals, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the politically charged situation. Mr. Sestak said no and went on to win last week’s Pennsylvania Democratic primary against Senator Arlen Specter.

The White House did not offer Mr. Sestak a full-time paid position because Mr. Emanuel wanted him to stay in the House rather than risk losing his seat. Among the positions explored by the White House was an appointment to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which provides independent oversight and advice the president. But White House officials discovered it would not work because Mr. Sestak could not serve on the board while still serving in Congress.

If this turns out to be what the entire controversy was about, then it’s frankly even less of a deal than I thought it was. It’s not even clear that the type of position discussed would amount to the type of offer that would implicate the statutes that I wrote about yesterday.

The scenario, if true,  does strike me, though, as politically questionable. Why would anyone in the White House have thought that Sestak, who clearly wants to be a Senator would choose instead to remain in Congress and serve on an advisory board ? If they really wanted to give him incentive to change his mind on challenging Specter, it seems to me that there’s a whole lot more that could have been offered.

Nonethless, this does shed light on the whole story and confirms me initial suspicions that this was nothing more than a faux controversy.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. anjin-san says:

    It’s interesting how the right keeps on talking about “Obama’s Watergate” Obama’s Katrina” “Obama’ Harriet Miers” and so on. The iconic failures of GOP Presidents are indeed plentiful, it would seem. Yet with all this noise, we have yet to see a real honest-to-goodness failure by Obama a year and a half in. It’s a sad day when so many are actually rooting for a President to fail.

  2. The only way they can acknowledge the errors of George W Bush is by claiming the Obama is doing the same thing

  3. Well, I’m sure that all the critics who were yelling “This proves the Obama administration is corrupt!/This proves the Obama administration is not better than all the others!” will apologize forthrightly and publicly.

    On behalf of the President, I’ll go ahead and pre-emptively accept those apologies. You are forgiven. Now go, and be foolish no more.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    What was wanted by many was answers. We may now have some but has Sestak confirmed this report?

    It’s interesting how those on the left are gloating over this like it’s a victory of sorts. It was a mistake not to release this information from the start before it took on the appearance of impropriety. They screwed it up so I see no reason to celebrate. But go ahead and keep building those straw men to punch around. There’s will be no apologies for asking reasonable questions.

  5. Dantheman says:

    Since Obama did offer 2 sitting Republicans positions in his Administration (Gregg and McHugh) as well as several sitting Democrats (H. Clinton, Salazar, Solis, etc.) , I have always been mystified on what the “there” was in this scandal. The fact that this has been a persistent story on the news, and yet I have not seen the majority of stories make this very basic point, is yet another data point on how the media is not liberal.

  6. The only way they can acknowledge the errors of George W Bush is by claiming the Obama is doing the same thing


  7. anjin-san says:

    What was wanted by many was answers

    No, what was wanted was a “gotcha” to use as ammunition against Obama. It’s sad. As much as disliked Bush, I never stopped rooting for him to get his act together, and I was very happy to see him at least partially straighten out the mess he made in Iraq towards the end of his Presidency.

  8. Franklin says:

    I almost agree with Plunk for once … we’ve heard only one side of the story now. Assuming the WH’s description is true, though, there wasn’t much reason to go public with the info any earlier. A couple weeks delay in getting information is actually quite swift compared to other government dispatches.

  9. Wayne says:

    It nice to see how many “now” take any statement from the Whitehouse as gospel truth and proof that nothing inappropriate happen. I’m sure they did the same thing with Bush. Just think of all the past investigations we could have avoided by simply taking administrations word for it.

    Offering a sitting politician a job is not inappropriate or a crime. Offering one in return for a political favor is. Try to get that part right.

  10. Drew says:

    “The only way they can acknowledge the errors of George W Bush is by claiming the Obama is doing the same thing.”

    That’s just pathetic.

  11. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    President Obama’s chief of staff used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to see if Representative Joe Sestak would drop out of a Senate primary

    Uh… did this happen before or after Clinton didn’t have sexual relations with that woman?

  12. Patrick,

    Neither. It was actually during coitus. What can I say? The guy can multitask.

  13. Maybe James is right, but it took a long time for this to come out. Perhaps getting the stories straight isn’t something that can be done very quickly.

  14. Dantheman says:


    “Offering a sitting politician a job is not inappropriate or a crime. Offering one in return for a political favor is. Try to get that part right.”

    And the political favor is what, exactly? Taking the job?

  15. Drew says:

    You know, I’ve always said, if you’ve got a guy who is so ambitious he wants to be a Senator – and you want to talk with him about standing down – what you do is you offer him an unpaid advisory role in the Administration. Unbelievably attractive. Works every time!!

    Further, in such a sensitive fact finding mission, you don’t send a member of the Administration. Nah, you send an ex-President who’s wife lost to the guy running the Administration.

    That said, I can see how supicions of impropriety are just completely outrageous. So as a public service I’d like to offer the oh-so-convincing public statement former President Clinton should give: (eyes squinting, jaw set, finger wagging) “I did not have improper conversations with that man, Mr. Sestak, I never offered him a job…………..and now I have to go back to work for the American people.

    Of course, without a blue dress, I think they get away with it, at least with the sycophants.

  16. Ugh says:

    Hell, even it the position was paid, using Clinton as a cutout, someone who has no ability or authority to make good on the offer (if it even was an offer, as opposed to “would you consider dropping out of the primary if you weere made Secretary of Defense?”), means there is no crime here (and even if it was, it would be Clinton on the hook).

  17. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    First, let us notice the position offered was an advisory position in the executive branch. Since Sestak was a member of the legislative branch, he could not hold an advisory position in the executive branch and remain in the legislative branch. Second, would a 3 star Admiral refer to an unpaid advisory position as a job? If so, why did the White House initially deny anything happened?
    Third, if the claims are true that former Pres. Clinton made that offer. Why did they wait until it became an issue before a White House counsel made the alligation? Why did Clinton not make the a statement to that effect much earlier.
    If Bush did the same sort of thing? Prove it.

  18. Dave J says:

    Months ago, Sestak used the word “job”. Axlerod recently goes in front of cameras and suggests that Sestak is not telling the truth. Today Sestak’s statement mirrors the White House memo. If Rahm, Clinton and Sestak all worked together in the past why use Clinton to approach Sestak with an appropriate offer? Are we to also learn that Clinton made calls to Colorado?

  19. MC says:

    Corrupting any election is a felony (that includes the White House – even through their proxies – and yes, asking a candidate to drop out in exchange for any position is tampering). Using a public figure with a known history of lying to a Federal Grand Jury does not help their cause. At least now we won’t have to hear “I did not have conversation with that candidate…” from him.
    This is a legitimate story, though it will likely not be pursued by the larger media outlets, leaving the blogosphere to have at it.

    Sestak said he was approached in July, and he announced his candidacy in August – so technically everyone could skate here (not that that wasn’t going to happen anyway).

    Remember, we are little people, they are giants. Now behave.