White House Now Says It Discussed USAID Position with Candidate Andrew Romanoff to 'Avoid Costly Battle' in Colorado
On Sept. 27, 2009, The Denver Post reported that Jim Messina, Obama’s deputy chief of staff, had contacted the candidate and “suggested a place for Romanoff might be found in the administration and offered specific suggestions, according to several sources who described the communication to The Denver Post.”
The paper also reported that “Romanoff turned down the overture” and that “the day after Romanoff formally announced his Senate bid, Obama endorsed Bennet.”
The story went on to quote White House spokesman Adam Abrams as saying, “Mr. Romanoff was never offered a position within the administration.”
There apparently was more to the story than the White House wanted to make public at the time.
On Wednesday, June 3, 2010, unnamed White House officials told the Associated Press that administration positions were “dangled” in front of Romanoff. Also, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement conceding that discussions occurred about an administration role for Romanoff to avoid a Democratic Senate primary battle in Colorado.
Still, both the White House and Romanoff maintain it was a discussion about a job and not an actual job offer.
The revelations in Colorado come amid growing questions about the circumstances of an offer for an administration position for Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) as a means to encourage him to withdraw his primary challenge to Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, also the favorite of the White House. In this case, an unnamed White House official “vociferously” denied that an offer was ever made to Sestak, according to the Feb. 19 edition of the Philadephia Inquirer. But three months later, on May 28, White House Counsel Robert Bauer released a memo that said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dispatched former President Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an unpaid position on a presidential advisory board to stay out of the Senate primary race in Pennsylvania.
Several Republican members of Congress have asserted that offering a job in exchange for dropping out of the primary would violate federal laws regarding corruption of federal appointment and interference with elections.
The Wednesday statement from Gibbs says the discussion of a role in the administration for Romanoff was not improper, but admitted it was designed to avoid a Democratic primary battle. Gibbs said that Romanoff initially applied for a position with USAID, the foreign aid agency.
“Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process,” Gibbs said. “After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel.”
“Jim Messina called and e-mailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate,” Gibbs continued. “Months earlier, the president had endorsed Sen. Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.”
“But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the Administration, and that ended the discussion,” Gibbs said. “As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.”
In his own statement, Romanoff said there was “a great deal of misinformation.” He also produced an e-mail from Messina that described three positions with USAID: the deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean; the director for the Office of Democracy and Governance; and director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
“In September 2009, shortly after the news media first reported my plans to run for the Senate, I received a call from Jim Messina, the President's deputy chief of staff,” said Romanoff. “Mr. Messina informed me that the White House would support Sen. Bennet. I informed Mr. Messina that I had made my decision to run. Mr. Messina also suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race. He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions. At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina's assistance in obtaining one.”
“Later that day, I received an e-mail from Mr. Messina containing descriptions of three positions,” said Romanoff. “I left him a voicemail informing him that I would not change course. I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then.”