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.

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. This strikes me as the WH creating a problem out of nothing. It isn’t as if offering a job is illegal or that it is impossible to consider that a job might be offered in a politically strategic fashion. Unless I am missing something, this really is a non-story that the WH is giving fuel to.

  2. Exactly.

    It’s only one a very weird set of facts that something like this would even approach being against the law. The only thing stonewalling does is feed into the idea that you have something to hide.

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    My understanding is it is against the law to offer a job like this as consideration for something in return. That something in return was not running against Arlen Spector. Mmmmm, that makes it illegal. That’s why the White House is stonewalling, the law has been broken.

  4. Steve

    The Federal Bribery Statute, 18 USC 201, has specific definitions of all those terms that would seem to clearly rule out it’s applicability to these type of situation

  5. Drew says:

    Considering that Rod Blagojevich is going to make the same case means this won’t go away. Of course, Rod had nothing to do with Obama and Rahm…………wait.

  6. Blago allegedly asked for money, which is a clear violation of the law, there’s no evidence that happened in this case.

  7. Steve Plunk says:


    I’m no lawyer but it’s 18 USC 600 that’s applicable. Promise of employment as consideration.

  8. Drew says:

    Doug –

    It was snark. That said, its interesting that Axlerod is taking a totally different tac. He’s acknowledging illegality, and now saying no such discussions were had. ie Stestak is a liar.


  9. Steve:

    18 USC 600:

    Whoever, directly or indirectly, promises any employment, position, compensation, contract, appointment, or other benefit, provided for or made possible in whole or in part by any Act of Congress, or any special consideration in obtaining any such benefit, to any person as consideration, favor, or reward for any political activity or for the support of or opposition to any candidate or any political party in connection with any general or special election to any political office, or in connection with any primary election or political convention or caucus held to select candidates for any political office, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

    In other words, if I offer you a job in exchange for supporting a candidate in a election.

    Not applicable.

  10. Wayne says:

    Sounds like 18 USC 600 applies here.

    Remember that there is a difference between for example helping a politician in a hope that he will give you a job and making a deal with that politician that you will help them in return for a job. One is illegal and the other one isn’t.

  11. Wayne says:

    “promises any employment, position “ and “reward for any political activity”

    Sounds like it fit this situation to me.

  12. Steve Plunk says:


    The key here is the term “any political activity” which would include withdrawing from race or a promise not to run. Someone in the White House broke the law according to Sestak.

    The intent of the law was to forbid the buying off of potential political opponents in order to maintain and consolidate power. That what was done.

  13. Steve,

    Actually I found nothing in the US Code that would indicate that the definition of “political activity” is as broad as you would make it.

    The intent of the law was to forbid the buying off of potential political opponents in order to maintain and consolidate power. That what was done.

    We don’t know that. Simply offering Sestak a job in the hope that he would take it rather than run against Specter is not illegal.

    Beside that, the only person who’s “verified” this story is Sestak and he keeps changing his story. At the very least, we know that he wasn’t offered Navy Secretary, because the timing doesn’t work out:.

  14. Wayne says:

    Nice try changing “any political activity” to “political activity”. It doesn’t fly.
    Yes simply offering Sestak a job in the hope that he would take it rather than run against Specter is not illegal. However if they did even a little bit more it is. Including asking what job they can offer him to stop his run, asking what can we do to convince you to drop your run against Specter, or would you drop you candidacy if we offer you this government job.

    The White House has refused to refute his story. Why is that and why won’t they give more information?