White House Says Whatever Conversation It Had With Rep. Sestak Was 'Not Problematic' – Doesn’t Say If Sestak Offered A Job

By Fred Lucas | March 16, 2010 | 9:56 PM EDT

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs briefs reporters at the White House on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – The White House broke its silence Tuesday with a carefully worded response regarding Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D-Pa.) charge that the White House offered him a high-level administration job in exchange for Sestak dropping his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.).

The response came after four weeks of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs telling various reporters that he did not have an answer on whether Sestak’s allegation was true. It also came after two members of Congress, Sen. Specter and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said that, if the story were true, it would amount to a federal crime.

Issa said Monday on Fox News, "But, at this point, the spokesperson for the president is now part of the cover-up, day after day after day, by saying he's going to 'get back to you' ... with something that should be easy to either confirm or deny.”

In the statement, Gibbs did not address whether the White House was involved in a cover-up, and still did not confirm or deny whether a White House official offered Sestak a job.

“I’ve talked to several people in the White House. I’ve talked to people who have talked to others in the White House,” Gibbs said in response to a question from liberal commentator Bill Press. “I’m told that whatever conversations have been had, are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that this is – whatever happened is in the past and he is focused on this primary.”

CNSNews.com followed up asking if the White House counsel looked into whether the matter was legal. Gibbs responded, “I would refer you to my previous comment.”

Fox News reporter Wendell Goler followed up, “Sestak still says he was offered something.”
Gibbs responded again, “I would repeat what I just said.”

Last week, Issa, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to White House Counsel Robert Bauer asking for answers.

Issa’s letter cited U.S. Code 18, Sections 211, 595, and 600 regarding the bribery of a public official. Section 595 says someone who “uses his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate of the District of Columbia or Resident Commissioner, shall be fined under the title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

Rep. Joe Sestak (D.-Pa.) is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. Senate primary. (AP Photo/George Widman)

“While the White House may think this is politics as usual, what is spectacularly unusual is when a candidate, a U.S. congressman no less, freely acknowledges such a proposal,” Issa wrote in the letter. “Almost always candidates keep quiet about such deals, and for good reason: They are against the law.”

In the letter, Issa specifically asked for who on the White House staff communicated with Sestak about the 2010 race for the Senate; to identify what position, if any, was offered in exchange for the commitment to not run; “what if any investigation did your office undertake to determine whether the criminal activity described by Rep. Sestak occurred?”; and, “Do you expect to make a referral to the United States Department of Justice in this matter?”

Last week, Sestak reaffirmed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe what he claimed in other TV interviews: That he was offered a job with the Obama administration if he would drop his challenge to Specter, a former Republican who switched parties in early 2009.

“Something happened last July before I got in the race and I never got asked about it, since someone asked me,” Sestak said. “You know what, I answered it honestly. I just said, ‘yes.’ I didn’t go beyond that. And actually, I don’t think I should.”

Also on MSNBC, Specter, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a district attorney, responded to the controversy in an interview with host Andrea Mitchell.

“There have been a number of commentators who have picked up on what Congressman Sestak has said and identified it as a bribe, punishable by jail,” Specter said. “And that’s a pretty strong charge to make against the president’s administration, implying perhaps even the president himself. So, I do think that someone who is going to make the charge ought to stand up and name names and name dates and back it up, and not just make the charge.”

Specter later added, “There is a specific federal statute, which makes it a bribe to make an offer for a public office. When I was district attorney, if somebody came and told me that, I would say, well, name names. Name dates. Name places. That’s a very serious charge. It’s a big black smear without specification. I’m telling you there is a federal crime, punishable by jail. Anybody who wants to say that ought to back it up.”