The plot thickens over the job offer to sitting Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and it may be only a matter of time before "Sestak-gate" enters the political corruption lexicon. Late last Friday, as the news cycle wound down going into the holiday weekend, the White House issued a memo declaring that its internal investigation of the alleged job offer to Sestak revealed no improprieties. This finding was certainly no surprise, but the administration's lame explanation raises more questions than it answers. According to the official account, Bill Clinton approached Sestak in 2009 about accepting an uncompensated position on a presidential advisory board -- this in return for Sestak's commitment to refrain from challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (D-R-D-PA) in their state's Democrat Senate primary. Sestak promptly rejected the offer and went on to win the primary last month.
There are several problems with this story, however, not the least of which is that it differs significantly from Sestak's. When Sestak first stated publicly in February that the administration had tried to get him out of the Senate primary, he claimed that he had been offered a "high-ranking job" -- not an unpaid position on an obscure presidential advisory board. Furthermore, the only board for which Sestak might qualify is the Intelligence Advisory Board, but because he's a sitting member of Congress, he cannot lawfully take part. For the administration's explanation to hold water, we would have to believe that Joe Sestak would give up a Senate run and a current House seat to take a role on an advisory board that offers no pay, no political clout and virtually no future career opportunities. Or at least none compared to being a former congressman or senator. Sestak, a liberal Democrat and retired Navy vice-admiral, has built his campaign around issues of trust and integrity; needless to say, this episode certainly could tarnish his race in the fall.
Nor will the White House escape the matter by bringing in scandal magnet Bill Clinton. It's suspected that Clinton's involvement is supposed to somehow absolve the administration of any wrongdoing because it puts them at arm's length. That's not the case, however, as Clinton still appears to have acted as an agent of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who, in sending Clinton, just may have violated the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act states that no federal employee may exert pressure to participate or not participate in political activity.
In related news, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina may soon be facing similar questions with regard to a job offer to Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff of Colorado. Romanoff's offer to drop his bid to challenge administration favorite Michael Bennet has resurfaced this week thanks to the Sestak affair.
Romanoff was rather vocal about his desire for a federal job during the Obama transition. He also expressed interest in a Senate appointment, which went to Bennet instead, or a shot at the lieutenant governorship slot when that opened up. It was only after he came up short all around that Romanoff turned to a Senate challenge of Bennet. (Apparently, making an honest living in the private sector never occurred to him.) Romanoff filed his papers as a candidate on Sept. 10, 2009, and the next day he received a call from Messina, who offered three separate opportunities with the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Trade Development Agency. Romanoff claims that none of the positions were guaranteed, but they would be available only if he was not already a candidate.
Since Obama's first attempt to sweep this under the rug seems to have failed, it will be interesting to see what future memos and documents have to say about what transpired in the ham-fisted political machine, er, "most transparent administration in history." To paraphrase the great political sage Forrest Gump, transparency is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.