Clinton backing away from Sestak story? Update: Video added; Update: New video with Clinton
posted at 8:48 pm on August 11, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
According to the Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, Bill Clinton has now denied that he acted as a go-between with Joe Sestak and the White House on a job offer to get out of the primary for the US Senate seat in Pennsylvania. Sestak had claimed to have received an offer of an administration job in exchange for his withdrawal, which prompted demands for a probe into potential violations of the law. The issue died down when Sestak claimed, but which Clinton never addressed publicly, that the offer was a trial balloon that came from the former President and got somehow misinterpreted. White House counsel Robert Bauer included it in the Obama administration’s report to the committee on the controversy:
The White House Chief of Staff enlisted the support of former President Clinton who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board. Congressman Sestak declined the suggested alternatives, remaining committed to his Senate candidacy.
Sestak followed up with a confirmation of that sequence of events on May 28th:
Last summer, I received a phone call from President Clinton. During the course of the conversation, he expressed concern over my prospects if I were to enter the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and the value of having me stay in the House of Representatives because of my military background. He said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had spoken with him about my being on a Presidential Board while remaining in the House of Representatives.
Now, according to the Republican members, Clinton has denied ever doing so in a conversation with WBRE-TV yesterday:
“Clinton denied it to EyeWitness news, saying he never tried to get Sestak out of the race and has never been accused of it.” (WBRE-TV, 8/10/10)
Jeff Dunetz confirmed the report with WBRE management, and says someone’s lying:
Just when you thought it was safe to accept a White House Job offer, the Joe Sestak Job scandal has reared its ugly head once again. Silent through the mess, former President Bill Clinton has finally spoken and denied the White House explanation that he met with Joe Sestak to offer him an administration job to drop out of the Democratic Primary against soon to be former Senator Specter.
WBRE-TV in Pennsylvania has reported that former President Bill Clinton denied any involvement in trying to maneuver Sestak out of the race (Source:House oversight committee, and story was personally confirmed with the evening assignment manager of WBRE via phone call on 8/11)
I’m a little curious why WBRE doesn’t have a report on this on its own website. They have two articles about Clinton’s campaign appearances for Sestak dated today, neither of which mentions this denial. Surely the NBC affiliate would understand the news value of this, especially in the middle of a Senate campaign in which Sestak’s honesty has already come under scrutiny. Perhaps they’ll have a report on it later and just missed the significance of the quote when they first had it, but that prompts the question of how the Oversight Committee managed to find it.
Assuming WBRE actually has this right, what does it mean? Many questioned whether the initial accusation would amount to a prosecutable offense, but as with so many other peccadilloes, it’s the cover-up that will get people in trouble. If Sestak lied about Clinton’s involvement, then he may find himself in big trouble with the Ethics Committee for knowingly giving false testimony to Oversight, whether under oath or not. If the White House and its counsel lied about Clinton’s involvement, that makes an even bigger problem and perhaps even a small-to-moderate constitutional crisis that could mean a termination for Bauer and some uncomfortable hearings for the White House if Republicans take control after the midterms.
As I recall, though, none of the testimony came under oath, so perjury and actual criminal charges wouldn’t apply. Politically, it would be a disaster for Sestak and Obama, especially in the near term. Assuming this gets substantiated — and that Clinton doesn’t have a sudden recall of pitching a job at Sestak — Pat Toomey will beat Sestak senseless in the next few weeks with it.
Update: Here’s the video of the WBRE report. It doesn’t have Clinton on camera making the statement, however:
Still room for deniability on Clinton’s part, but definitely this puts the issue back on the table again.
Update II: WEBR has video of their reporter attempting to get Clinton to answer the question. It’s a little hard to make out, but Clinton denies attempting to get Sestak to quit:
For the man who parsed the word “is,” there is possibly some wiggle room here. Clinton could argue that he didn’t intend on getting Sestak to quit but merely parlayed the request from the White House. However, it does appear that Clinton denies the story altogether in this reaction.