White House: ‘No Improper Conduct’ in Sestak Job Offer

Posted May 28, 2010 at 10:55am

Updated: 12:03 p.m.

White House counsel Robert Bauer on Friday rejected claims that Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.) was offered a top administration job in return for dropping his primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter.

In a memo released by the White House on Friday, Bauer says his office has “concluded that allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack a basis in law.” It runs through the various potential positions that have been reported to have been offered to Sestak, who defeated Specter for the Senate Democratic nomination earlier this month.

Although Bauer acknowledges that at the request of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, former President Bill Clinton approached Sestak about being appointed to “a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board,” he makes clear that no White House officials went to Sestak directly and that any position would have been unpaid.

Bauer also shoots down allegations that Sestak was offered the secretary of the Navy job, calling it “false.” In the memo, Bauer points out that, “the President announced his intent to nominate Ray Mabus to be Secretary of the Navy on March 26, 2009, over a month before Sen. Specter announced that he was becoming a member of the Democratic Party. … At no time was Congressman Sestak offered, nor did he seek, the position of Secretary of the Navy.”

Bauer also seeks to knock down suggestions that discussing alternatives with Sestak generally was inappropriate, noting that “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.” Bauer also notes that given Sestak’s record of public service, “Congressman Sestak was viewed to be highly qualified to hold a range of advisory positions which he could, while holding his House seat, have additional responsibilities.”

Bauer also points out in his memo that previous administrations have been involved in similar discussions and that they did not violate any legal or ethical rules. “There have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations — both Democratic and Republican, and motivate by the same goals — discussed alternative paths. … Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.”

President Barack Obama on Thursday said his administration would be responding to the allegations that the White House acted improperly and perhaps illegally in trying to bribe Sestak to get out of the Senate race. Obama told reporters that nothing improper occurred. Sestak has said he would respond once the White House issued its statement.