The White House and Rep. Joe Sestak agree: Joe Sestak is a buffoon.
After months of White House stonewalling inquiries about whether Rep. Sestak had been offered a federal job in exchange for dropping his challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary, White House Counsel Robert Bauer issued a statement Friday (5/28) that said:
"The White House Chief of Staff 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."
By stressing that the offer was made by Mr. Clinton, who is not a member of the administration, and was for a non-paid job, Mr. Bauer's statement seemed contrived to get around 18 USC 600 and 18 USC 595, which make it a felony to offer a government job as a quid pro quo for a political favor.
The number of people who actually believe this is roughly akin to the number of people who believe President Clinton was telling the truth when he said: "I did not have sex with that woman."
According to the Denver Post, former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff was offered the post of director of the U.S. Agency for International Development if he would drop his primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet. But the White House thought Mr. Sestak could be bought off with an unpaid position on an advisory board?
In a statement he issued Friday, Rep. Sestak said it was so. He and Mr. Clinton declined to answer questions.
The implication is that Mr. Sestak was grossly exaggerating when he said he'd been offered a high level job to drop out of the race, and that he'd distorted the truth to puff up his own importance.
Rep. Sestak won the primary in part because his (apparently undeserved) reputation for candor contrasted favorably with Sen. Specter's blatant careerism. But if Mr. Sestak wasn't lying in February, he is lying now.
The evidence suggests he is lying now.
It was Philadelphia talk show host Larry Kane, in an interview Feb. 18, who brought up the job offer. In an interview with National Review Friday, Mr. Kane said he'd heard rumors that a job had been offered to Mr. Sestak, so he decided to ask him about it.
"Were you offered a federal job to get out of this race?" Mr. Kane asked.
"Yes," Mr. Sestak responded.
"Was it high ranking?" Mr. Kane asked. Rep. Sestak again responded "yes."
This seems to me to be the unguarded response to an unexpected question by an honest man. Rep. Sestak seemed to realize right away he'd committed a "gaffe" -- which is Washington-speak for inadvertently blurting out the truth -- and refused to say anything more.
In the months that followed, Rep. Sestak never once raised the issue -- which would be odd behavior if he were making up the story to puff up his own importance -- but when asked about it, responded as he had to Mr. Kane.
Immediately after the interview, Mr. Kane called the White House to ask if it were true. After a delay of many hours, he was told that it was not.
If the facts were as the White House now claims, why not reveal them then? That would have put the controversy to rest before it began, and -- by revealing Mr. Sestak as a gross exaggerator -- would have given a boost to Sen. Specter, their favored candidate in the Democratic primary.
There is evidence of collusion in the White House response, which President Nixon might have described as a "modified limited hang-out." Mr. Clinton lunched with President Obama the day before the statement was issued. The day before that, the White House called Rep. Sestak's brother (and campaign manager).
"They got ahold of my brother on his cell phone, and he spoke to the White House about what's going to occur," Mr. Sestak told reporters. (He doesn't seem yet to have this inadvertently blurting out the truth thing under control.)
By releasing its statement at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, the Obama administration hopes this issue will go away. Most journalists would like to oblige, because Mr. Obama is a Democrat they'd like to protect, and because they regard the offense as so venial.
But as Mr. Nixon could have told Mr. Obama, it isn't the crime that does you in. It's the coverup.