Published on TheHill.com on May 25, 2010
Rep. Joe Sestak, the winner of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, says quite openly and repeatedly that he was offered a job by the White House if he would drop out of the race against Sen. Arlen Specter. Having secured Specter’s conversion to the Democratic Party, thus giving the party a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the Obama administration obviously sought to keep its word to Specter that it would do its utmost to deliver the Democratic nomination to him. According to Sestak, that included a job offer.
Who made the offer? What position was offered? And when did it happen? Sestak, who was nominated on a platform of “transparency,” refuses to answer any of these questions. The White House admits that a conversation took place but won’t provide any details and insists that an “internal investigation” revealed that “nothing inappropriate” took place.
Or did it?
It is unlikely that Sestak was offered a job interviewing people for the census. Only a high-level job offer — a Cabinet post or an ambassadorship to a key country — would have sufficient gravitas to conceivably induce him to drop his primary challenge. Some have speculated that Sestak, a retired admiral, might have been offered the post of secretary of the Navy. Others wonder whether, since he is fluent in Russian, he was to be tapped for ambassador to Moscow.
And, before an offer of that magnitude were tendered, it would have to have been cleared with the higher levels of the White House. How could an offer of a Cabinet post have been made without consultation with the chief of staff?
And how was the offer made? It would have to have been proffered by somebody whom Sestak could reasonably assume was speaking for the president and could deliver on his end of the deal. A lower-level official wouldn’t have that kind of clout. Could the offer have been tendered by Rahm Emanuel himself. It’s clearly his style.
But could Rahm or anyone else have made such an offer without consulting the president himself? You can’t go around passing out Cabinet posts or ambassadorships without consulting the boss. Whatever position of that level the White House dangled in front of him, it would have to have been approved by the president.
And Sestak must have probed the person who conveyed the offer to ascertain its bona fides. He would reasonably have asked, “Did you clear this with the president?” Otherwise, why would he even consider such an offer?
The White House and Sestak are stonewalling questions from the media and, obviously, a Democratic-controlled Congress is not about to go poking around asking about the proposed deal.
So how could the Republicans break it open?
The weak link here is Sestak himself, who claims that he embraces “transparency.” Fueled by his primary victory and the momentum it generated, Rasmussen has him four points ahead of Pat Toomey, the GOP candidate. This lead won’t hold up for long in the face of a refusal to respond to questions the public is entitled to have answered.
Toomey or the Republican Party or other independent-expenditure groups should run ads throughout Pennsylvania asking these basic questions.
They should tell Sestak that he ran on a platform of transparency and it’s time to reveal who offered what and when.
Either Sestak is lying and there was never an offer or the White House has skirted very close to having committed a crime or may have stepped over the edge. And, considering the stakes and the nature of what the offer would have to have been, this scandal could reach very high indeed.
Is it a high crime and misdemeanor to offer someone something of value in return for withdrawing from a U.S. Senate race? We may be about to find out.