White House Spokesman Gibbs Has Never Confirmed or Denied Sestak’s Claim That He Was Offered Administration Job Not to Run Against Specter
For weeks, Gibbs said he would look into the matter. Finally, on March 16, he told reporters, “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.”
Although the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Feb. 20 that an unnamed White House official said the White House “vociferously” denied Sestak’s claim, Gibbs himself has never made such a categorical denial in his on-the-record briefings. Nor has he ever explained exactly what the administration’s conversations with Sestak entailed. Sestak, for his own part, repeatedly affirmed on TV programs that he was offered an administration job not to challenge Specter. He has not backed down from this claim.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, today called for a special prosecutor to investigate the matter. Several legal experts--including Sen. Specter, a former district attorney—have said Sestak’s claim that he was offered an administration job in exchange for not running for the Senate describes what would be a federal crime if it were true.
Below are Gibbs’s responses to reporters’ questions about Sestak’s allegation as drawn from the official White House transcripts of Gibbs’s briefings.
February 23, 2010
Question: “One last thing, I'm sorry. Congressman Jeff 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: “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 on Feb. 23
Question: “I want to follow-up on Jake's (ABC News) question, because on Friday, unnamed officials of this building did vociferously deny Representative 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: “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.”
Question: “Would there be anything inappropriate about a discussion like that?”
Gibbs: “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.”
March 1, 2010
Question: “Thank you, Robert. Last Monday you were asked twice about the claims of Congressman Sestak that he had been offered a high-ranking administration position and--”
Gibbs: “I have not--I have not made any progress on that.”
Question: “Just to let you know, I was in touch with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon, who said there was no discussion of it at all. But Mr. Sestak's spokesman, Jonathan Dworkin, said the congressman stands by his story. Can you check if the White House--?”
Gibbs: “I was remiss on this, and I apologize.”
Gibbs: “I -- there's not much to follow up on. Let me, let me check into that.”
Later on March 1
Question: “(inaudible) back on it just very briefly. An unknown White House spokesperson did say in the Philadelphia Inquirer, or did deny what Sestak had said three times on TV?”
Gibbs: “Yes, I said I would check on this. It's hard for me to do followups on something I can't--can't work through.”
Question: “So, so at this point, the White House is not ready to deny what Sestak said?”
Gibbs: “No. I, I think I said I would check on, on the situation.”
March 9, 2010
Question: “A couple of quick political ones. On the Sestak issue, Arlen Specter said on another--this afternoon that Sestak and his opinion on this allegation that he was offered a job not to run against Specter, needs to prove it, needs to back it up, and claims that Sestak's accusation is hurting the White House, damaging its reputation. You told us a couple of times you'd check back on this. Can you give us an update, number one? And number two--”
Gibbs: “I don't have the update with me, but let me check and see if I do have anything--”
Question: “Do you have any evaluation of Senator Specter's comments on this?”
Gibbs: “No, I don't.”
March 11, 2010
Question: “One other thing, because last Tuesday you told us, ‘I don't have the update with me on Sestak.’ Two things have happened since then. Two things have happened.”
Gibbs: “I don't have any--”
Question: “Darrell Issa sent a letter to the White House Counsel – ”
Gibbs: “I don't have anything additional on that. Scott?”
Question: “Are you ever going to have anything additional on that?”
Gibbs: “I don't have it today.”
March 12, 2010
Question: “And the other thing: Do you have an answer yet on Mr. Sestak’s charge?”
Gibbs: “I don’t have any more information on that.”
March 16, 2010
Question: Robert, perhaps a sore point, but Congressman Darrell Issa has accused you, Robert Gibbs, of being part of a cover-up because you will not say whether the White House offered Joe Sestak a job for not running against Arlen Specter. Guilty or not guilty?
Gibbs: Look, I’ve talked to several people in the White House; I’ve talked to people that have talked to others in the White House. 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’s focused on his primary election.
Question: Did the White House Counsel’s Office look into whether this was a crime--
Gibbs: I’d refer you to my previous lines.
Question: Sestak says he was offered something.
Gibbs: I’ll refer you to what I just said a minute ago.