White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel went to former President Bill Clinton to send a message to Rep. Joe Sestak: Drop out of your Senate challenge to incumbent Arlen Specter and you'll get a "prominent" position.
That's according to the New York Times' Peter Baker, who cites "people briefed on the matter."
Sestak, of course, refused and stayed in the race. And, on May 18, he handily defeated Specter, who was seeking a sixth term but who had only switched to the Democratic Party a year before.
The job offer, originally disclosed in February by Sestak himself, has grown into a firestorm in recent days, with Republicans — and some Democrats — demanding answers from the White House. All seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for a special prosecutor to investigate whether federal laws were broken. After White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs spent the better part of a week refusing to say what the administration did — other than to assure everyone that no laws were broken — President Obama was asked about it during Thursday's news conference. Obama told reporters only this: "There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue, which I hope will answer your questions." He added, "I can assure the public that nothing improper took place."
The Times' Baker writes that Emanuel went to Clinton for this task because Sestak worked for the former president on the National Security Council staff in the 1990s. He also endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primaries and Bill Clinton "was one of the first to call to congratulate him on his Senate victory last week." Baker also notes that Emanuel has "leaned on" New York Gov. David Paterson to get out of the race ("which he eventually did under a cloud of scandal"), and there are reports that the White House tried to get Andrew Romanoff to drop his primary challenge to appointed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. Baker also sums up the politics of it all:
Whether that constitutes ordinary political horse trading or crosses a legal line has been debated in Washington for months. Democrats and some Republicans have said it is hardly unusual for presidents to offer political appointments to clear the way for allies. But Republicans have suggested such actions may constitute a crime.
Yesterday, RNC chair Michael Steele issued this statement:
It is unacceptable for an administration that touts itself as the "most transparent" in history to continue to stonewall a significant and potentially devastating accusation of political corruption. And, until a thorough and public investigation has been conducted and the air is cleared, this matter will continue to cloud the President each time he steps foot in Pennsylvania to place the establishment mantle on Joe Sestak between now and November.
A statement from the White House is expected later today. Sestak is scheduled to appear on NPR's "Weekend All Things Considered" (WATC) on Saturday, with the interview taped later this afternoon.