Robert Gibbs offered a new written statement on the allegation from Andrew Romanoff that the White House had attempted to get him out of the primary contest against Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) by offering him a job. Gibbs denied that the Obama administration did anything wrong. And then he more or less admitted that White House staffer Jim Messina made the offer to stop Romanoff’s primary run:
Last year, the deputy WH CoS discussed 2 USAID posts and a US Trade and Development Agency job with ex-CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D), if only Romanoff would drop his challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet (D), Romanoff said in a statement last night. It is the second time in as many weeks that the WH will have to answer questions about using the offer of admin posts to clear a Senate primary field.
In a statement released early this morning, WH Press Sec. Robert Gibbs said the WH had done nothing wrong. “Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process. After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel,” Gibbs said. “Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate. … Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters [emphasis mine — Ed].”
Er, isn’t that exactly the problem? If the White House has been offering people paid jobs in the administration in order to “avoid costly battles” in primaries, then that breaks the law. The allegations surrounding their dealings with Joe Sestak and Romanoff have been all along that the White House attempted to buy off primary challengers to Democratic incumbents in Senate races. Far from establishing that there has been no wrongdoing, the statement confirms the allegations.
With that said, what is the likelihood of prosecution? I’d say minimal, but that’s not the big problem for the White House. Instead, these explosions of scandal expose the Obama administration as corrupt. Those expressing surprise that a survivor of Daley Machine politics is less than squeaky clean should be considered intellectually suspect anyway, but Barack Obama managed to fool a lot of people in 2008 with his expressions of Hope and Change. The media refused to vet Obama in the context of his Chicago politics and the backers that propelled him onto the national stage, but they’ll be interested in this scandal, especially because they tie into electoral issues.
Worse, this plays into the growing sense that this administration is incompetent. Even for those who saw Obama as a Chicago Machine pol instead of an agent of change and reform, no one expected him to be so bad at Chicago-style politics.
Update: Politico’s Jonathan Allen and Carol Lee see the same dangers:
Taken together, the Sestak and Romanoff cases suggest a White House team that is one part Dick Daley, one part Barney Fife.
They undercut the Obama’s reputation on two fronts. Trying to put the fix in to deny Democratic voters the chance to choose for themselves who their Senate nominees should be is hardly consistent with the idea of “Yes we can” grassroots empowerment that is central to Obama’s brand.
And bungling that fix is at odds with the Obama team’s image—built around the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Obama himself—as shrewd political operatives who know the game and always win it.