White House Staying Silent On Rumors Of A Sestak Deal
For months now, there have been rumors that the White House attempted to protect Arlen Specter from a primary challenge by Congressman Joe Sestak by offering Sestak an Administration job, specifically Secretary of the Navy. Sestak seemed to confirm these rumors just this past Sunday when he said:
“It’s interesting. I was asked a question about something that happened months earlier, and I felt that I should answer it honestly, and that’s all I had to say about it.” Sestak said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Anybody else has to decide on what they will say upon their role. That’s their responsibility.”
Yet Sestak confirmed to NBC’s David Gregory that the incident did take place.
“I was offered a job, and I answered that,” Sestak said. “Anything that goes beyond that is for others to talk about.”
For some reason, though, the White House is refusing to provide any information about what may or may not have taken place:
WASHINGTON — For three months, the White House has refused to say whether it offered a job to Representative Joe Sestak to get him to drop his challenge to Senator Arlen Specter in a Pennsylvania Democratic primary, as Mr. Sestak has asserted.
But the White House wants everyone who suspects that something untoward, or even illegal, might have happened to rest easy: though it still will not reveal what happened, the White House is reassuring skeptics that it has examined its own actions and decided it did nothing wrong. Whatever it was that it did.
“Lawyers in the White House and others have looked into conversations that were had with Congressman Sestak,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “And nothing inappropriate happened.”
“Improper or not, did you offer him a job in the administration?” asked the host, Bob Schieffer.
“I’m not going to get further into what the conversations were,” Mr. Gibbs replied. “People that have looked into them assure me that they weren’t inappropriate in any way.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “trust us” response from the White House has not exactly put the matter to rest. With Mr. Sestak’s victory over Mr. Specter in last week’s primary, the questions have returned with intensity, only to remain unanswered. Mr. Gibbs deflected questions 13 times at a White House briefing last week just two days after the primary. Mr. Sestak, a retired admiral, has reaffirmed his assertion without providing any details, like who exactly offered what job.
Republicans have pressed Mr. Sestak to explain. “Congressman Sestak should tell the public everything he knows about the job he was offered, and who offered it,” former Representative Pat Toomey, his Republican opponent, said Monday.
Amber Marchand, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said, “Joe Sestak owes Pennsylvanians a full explanation for this potentially illegal activity.”
Whether the conversations might have been illegal is unclear without knowing what precisely was said. There are certainly statutes that bar government employees from using their authority to influence a Senate nomination or to promise employment as a reward for political activity. Yet presidents have given appointments to many people to reward allies or take would-be obstacles out of the way for other allies, explicitly or not.
It’s not like job offers to ambitious politicians are rare inside the Beltway; n one way or another, they’ve been a fact of life since the Jackson Administration. The difference is that it usually happens behind the scenes, and neither party ever talks about it. Had Sestak accepted an appointment to the Navy Department, we never would have heard about this and Arlen Specter would be the Democratic nominee for Senate from Pennsylvania. It’s only because Sestak made the offer public that we’re even talking about this.
It’s because of that, though, that the White House stall isn’t likely to work here. Republicans are talking about the job offer, Sestak’s opponent Pat Toomey is talking about it, and now the press corps is asking Robert Gibbs questions about it. In all likelihood, there’s nothing to this story other than traditional Washington politics, but that doesn’t mean it won’t become a problem for the Administration if they continue to stonewall on what seems like a fairly simple question to answer.