White House Not Ready to Deny Democrat's Claim That Administration Offered Him Taxpayer-Funded Job If He Wouldn’t Run Against Sen. Specter

By Fred Lucas | March 1, 2010 | 6:48 PM EST

(CNSNews.com) - White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday he would have to “check on it” before he could deny Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D.-Pa.) claim that the administration had offered him a high-ranking job in the administration in exchange for not mounting a primary challenge against incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter (D.-Pa.), who switched parties last year, briefly giving the Democrats a 60-vote majority in the Senate.
“So, at this point, the White House is not ready to deny what Sestak said?” CNSNews.com asked Gibbs.
“No. I think I said I would check on it, on the situation,” said Gibbs.

Gibbs statement that he still needed to do some checking on the issue comes a week after he gave virtually the same non-substantive answer to reporters who asked about it at last Tuesday’s briefing.
It also comes ten days after Fox News reported that an unnamed White House official, speaking on “background,” had denied Rep. Sestak’s claim, and nine days after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that an unnamed White House official, who insisted on “anonymity,” had “vociferously” denied the congressman’s claim. Rep. Sestak, meanwhile, has repeatedly stood by his assertion that the administration offered him a job in exchange for not running against Specter.
Sen. Specter, a five-term incumbent, switched from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in 2009. Rep. Sestak is now challenging him for the Democratic nomination to run in the Senate election this November.
The controversy started on Feb. 18, when Sestak appeared on “Larry Kane: Voice of Reason,” a public affairs television program on the Comcast Network in Pennsylvania. Kane asked, “Were you ever offered a federal job to get out of this race?”
“Yes,” said Sestak.
“Was it secretary of the Navy?” Kane asked.
“No comment, though I would never get out for a deal. I’m in this for the Democratic principles,” said Sestak.
“Okay,” said Kane. “But there was a job offered to you by the White House?”
“Yes, someone offered--” said Sestak.
“It was big, right?” asked Kane.
“It was—let me not comment on it,” Sestak responded.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, which had a reporter present when Sestak taped the interview with Kane, reported that Sestak “nodded when asked if the offer was for a high-ranking post.”
The Inquirer subsequently interviewed Sestak about the job offer he told Kane the administration had made. “I’m not going to say who or how and what was offered,” said Sestak. “I don’t feel it’s appropriate to go beyond what I said.”
Sestak also told the Inquirer that he immediately turned down the job offer and described to the paper the reaction of the person who had tendered it. “The person said, ‘I know you’d say that,’” Sestak told the Inquirer.
On Feb. 19, Martha MacCallum interviewed Sestak on Fox News and asked him about his allegation that the administration had offered him a job in exchange for not running against Sen. Specter. “The White House now says, you know, on background, that that is not true and that they have no further comment on it, but that it’s not true,” she said. “Your response, sir.”
“I was asked a direct question yesterday and I answered it honestly. There’s nothing more to go in to,” said Sestak.
The next day, the Inquirer reported that “a White House official ‘vociferously’ denied his account as Sestak insisted on national television that he had told the truth, but declined for a second day to divulge details.”
The story went on to say, “The White House official would not elaborate on the statement, given under condition of anonymity, that Sestak’s account was false.”
Sestak appeared again on national television on Monday, Feb. 22, on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show.” Liberal host Ed Schultz showed the clip of Sestak telling his story to Kane on the Comcast program, and asked Sestak “What job were you offered, Joe? Tell us tonight, what job were you offered?”
Sestak again held to his story, but decline to provide any details to Schultz.
“Ed, I got asked that question after seven months. I didn’t push it out there. And I answered it honestly,” said Sestak. “And Ed, to be quite honest here, to go further than that serves no purpose, because that’s about politics. I’m in this race because I honestly believe Washington, D.C., where I’m standing, has just forgotten the working family. And I want to talk about the health care bill. I answered a question honestly, and that’s all that matters.”
At the Feb. 23 White House press briefing, two reporters asked Gibbs about the matter.
One reporter asked: “Congressman Sestak last week said that the White House offered him a high ranking job in the administration to not run against Arlen Specter. Do you guys have any comment on that?”
Gibbs answered, “I was traveling for a couple of days, as you know. I have seen some stuff that he said, but I have not looked into this.”
Later, another reporter asked, “On Friday, unnamed officials of this building did vociferously deny Rep. Sestak's assessment that he had been offered a job. And I just want to say, when you said, ‘I haven't looked at this,’ I want to make sure you're not contradicting that denial.”
Gibbs answered, “I just--because I was on the road and dealing with different things on the road, I've not had a chance to delve into this.”
The reporter followed up: “Would there be anything inappropriate about a discussion like that?”
Gibbs said, “Let me have somebody look into--like I said, I was on the road and I don't really have a whole lot of knowledge on this.”
Seven days later, on Monday, March 1, another reporter asked, “You were asked twice about the claim from Congressman Sestak that he had been offered a high ranking administration position.”
Gibbs answered, “I have not checked.”
The reporter followed: “Just to let you know, I was in touch with Geoff Morrell at the Pentagon and he said there was no discussion at all. But Mr. Sestak’s spokesman, Jonathon Dworkin, said the congressman stands by his story.”
“I will check,” Gibbs responded.
CNSNews.com followed up: “An unnamed White House spokesperson did say in the Philadelphia Inquirer, or did deny, what Sestak said three times on TV.”
Gibbs interjected, “Like I said I will check on it.”
CNSNews.com then asked: “So, at this point, the White House is not ready to deny what Sestak said?”
“No. I think I said I would check on it, on the situation,” said Gibbs.