White House Spokesman Has No Answer on Sestak Job Offer; ‘I’d Refer You to the Memo’
After almost three months of insisting that "nothing inappropriate" happened, the White House on Friday -- just before the start of the long holiday weekend -- issued a two-page memo discussing "the suggestion that government positions may have been improperly offered" to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) to "dissuade him" from running against Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.
The memo, written by White House Counsel Bob Bauer, said there was no “impropriety” and that the administration’s actions were “fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.”
But the memo is raising more questions, which the White House could not or would not answer on Tuesday.
It appears that Sestak could not have served on a presidential advisory board while retaining his seat in Congress. But according to Bauer's memo, that’s exactly what the White House proposed.
Asked Tuesday how Sestak could he sit on a White House advisory board while retaining his House seat, White House spokesman Gibbs conceded, “He couldn’t.”
So why make the offer, reporters asked. “I’d refer you to the memo,” Gibbs responded. “But the memo didn’t specify,” CNSNews.com reporter Fred Lucas reminded Gibbs. “Right,” Gibbs replied. (See transcript below)
’Options for Executive Branch service’
According to Bauer’s memo, “options for Executive Branch service were raised with” Sestak.
“Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with an opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified.”
Bauer said Sestak would not have been paid for an advisory position.
Bauer also stated that no one in the White House discussed the advisory board options with Sestak. Instead, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel “enlisted the support of former President Clinton who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board.”
Bauer said Sestak “declined the suggested alternatives,” and continued his ultimately successful run for a Senate candidacy.
Sestak told reporters on Friday he thinks Clinton tried to offer him a spot on a presidential intelligence advisory board.
What follows is a transcript of the questions – and non-answers – posed to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs at Tuesday’s White House press briefing:
NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER PETER BAKER: Can I ask on a different topic then? On Friday, after our last chance with you last week, we received this memo from Bob Bauer on the Sestak matter. In three months -- this is the response after three months of questions. I’m just wondering, if it’s not a big deal, as you guys are saying, then why did we wait for three months to answer that question?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to ask Counsel for a better answer on that. I don’t know the answer.
NYT BAKER: Don’t you have something to do with that as the chief spokesman for the White House? You were asked on a number of occasions and don’t you think that that kind of created --
MR. GIBBS: If I bear some responsibility for that, I can understand that.
(Later in the briefing)
CNSNEWS.COM: Thanks, Robert. Just a couple of quick things on the Sestak thing again. The counsel’s memo on Friday said that efforts were made in June and July of 2009. Were there multiple efforts and were all those made by President Clinton?
MR. GIBBS: Whatever is in the memo is accurate.
CNSNEWS.COM: Okay, but I mean, with regards to June and July, I mean, were all those President Clinton or --
MR. GIBBS: I think the relationship on how that happened, yes, is explained in the memo.
NYT BAKER: Joe Sestak said he had one conversation with President Clinton.
MR. GIBBS: Let me check.
CNSNEWS.COM: And just one more. As far as -- it said this is an unpaid position. Does that make a difference in the view of the White House, that it would be an unpaid position as opposed to a paid position?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. The situation was an unpaid position and didn’t constitute a lot of what you’re hearing.
CNSNEWS.COM: Okay, and just one more -- sorry. But the [Presidential] Intelligence Advisory Board, which most reports said this offer was for, that would be a position a member of the House could not serve on. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: That’s how I understand the way the PIAB is written.
CNSNEWS.COM: But the memo, it said that this would be a position to serve in the House and serve on a presidential advisory board.
MR. GIBBS: Correct.
CNSNEWS.COM : Well, how could he sit on the board?
FOX NEWS REPORTER MAJOR GARRETT : Yes, how would that work?
MR. GIBBS: He couldn’t.
NYT BAKER: So why was your offer --
CNSNEWS.COM So that wasn’t the offer, then?
MR. GIBBS: I’d refer you to --
CNSNEWS.COM What position, what board, was it then? Do you know?
MR. GIBBS: I’d refer you to the memo.
CNSNEWS.COM: But the memo didn’t specify.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is asking the FBI to open a "full criminal investigation" into what Issa calls "an illegal quid pro quo.”
In the memo released Friday, White House Counsel Bob Bauer said the discussions with Sestak were not improper because the “Democratic Party leadership had a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight and a similarly legitimate concern about the Congressman vacating his seat in the House. By virtue of his career in public service, including distinguished military service, Congressman Sestak was viewed to be highly qualified to hold a range of advisory positions in which he could, while holding his House seat, have additional responsibilities of considerable potential interest to him and value to the Executive Branch."
As White House Memo on Sestak Raises More Questions, White House Refers to That Same Memo for Answers (2 June 2010)