WHAT SESTAK WAS OFFERED…. The year’s thinnest, most vapid, most manufactured political “controversy” appears to be ending with a whimper.
President Obama’s chief of staff used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to see if Representative Joe Sestak would drop out of a Senate primary if given a prominent, but unpaid, advisory position, people briefed on the matter said Friday.
Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, asked Mr. Clinton to explore the possibilities last summer, according to the briefed individuals, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the politically charged situation. Mr. Sestak said no and went on to win last week’s Pennsylvania Democratic primary against Senator Arlen Specter.
The White House did not offer Mr. Sestak a full-time paid position because Mr. Emanuel wanted him to stay in the House rather than risk losing his seat.
When Sestak first claimed in February that he’d been offered a job, that was a bit of an exaggeration. The discussions apparently included a spot on the Intelligence Advisory Board, but even that was quickly dismissed as an idea because he couldn’t serve on the panel while remaining in Congress.
So, what are we left with? Perhaps the dullest, most inconsequential White House “controversy” in a very long time.
The White House counsel’s office prepared a memo, explaining the situation in a way that even Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) can understand: “There have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations — both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals — discussed alternative paths to service for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office. Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.”
Obviously. When the Reagan White House offered Sen. S.I. Hayakawa (R) a job in 1981 in the hopes of convincing him to drop out of the Republican Senate primary race in California, no one cared. When George W. Bush’s White House approached Rep. Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.) about a job in the hopes of convincing him not to run for re-election, no one cared. Mundane political efforts like these fail to raise an eyebrow because they’re the very definition of routine. As Ron Kaufman, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s White House political director, said this week, “Tell me a White House that didn’t do this, back to George Washington.”
In this case, it’s even thinner, since Sestak wasn’t even offered a job, but rather an unpaid advisory position, which a) wasn’t particularly enticing; and b) was quickly dismissed anyway.
Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told Greg Sargent that this couldn’t constitute bribery. “Beyond that, Sloan adds, the Federal bribery statute requires an offer of something of value in exchange for an official act. Sloan says that not running for Senate would not constitute an official act in any case, even if a paid position were offered in return for dropping a run for office.”
The political world can now move on, hopefully feeling chastened for taking this nonsensical story seriously in the first place.