The Obama White House continued to box itself into a corner on the scandal surrounding Joe Sestak and the attempt to push him out of the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. Robert Gibbs denied yesterday that the unpaid position offered the former admiral was on the Presidential Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), but refused to specify what position Bill Clinton offered Sestak on behalf of Barack Obama. At stake was the argument offered by White House counsel Robert Bauer that no laws had been broken because the offer did not involve a job with a salary:
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs indicated Tuesday that Rep. Joe Sestak was not offered a spot on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board but refused to say what was dangled in front of the Democrat in an attempt to remove him from a Senate primary.
The spot offered to Sestak, Gibbs said to reporters at the White House, “didn’t constitute a lot of what you’re hearing.”
But Gibbs refused to clarify what Sestak, who won the May 18 primary and is now the Democratic nominee for Senate, was offered. …
White House counsel Bob Bauer said Friday that Sestak was offered a spot on “a presidential or other senior executive branch advisory board.”
However, Sestak would have been ineligible for such a post. Sestak and the Obama administration both said the congressman would have kept his seat in the House if he took a spot on the PIAB. But the PIAB is comprised of individuals who are “outside the government.”
Gibbs confirmed Tuesday that Sestak could not have served on the PIAB.
Well, where exactly would they have put Sestak, then? The only other standing presidential advisory board is on the economy, the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) headed by Paul Volcker. However, like the PIAB, the PERAB also explicitly requires members to be from “outside the government,” as well as having experience in economic issues. Given that the PERAB has a much lower profile than the PIAB and is well outside of Sestak’s competence, it seems extremely unlikely that Obama would have offered Sestak a PERAB position — and that Sestak would have seen that as a good trade for ending his political career in Congress.
Republicans also pounced on another inconsistency. Sestak’s statement indicated that his contact with Clinton on the offer came on one occasion only, and lasted no more than 60 seconds. However, Bauer’s memo notes “efforts” — plural — that transpired in June and July of 2009. Unless that 60-second conversation took place at 11:59:30 PM on June 30th, 2009, it appears that Sestak may not be telling the entire truth about the offer and his consideration of it.
Byron York noticed the discrepancy, too, and reports that Gibbs supports the Bauer version of events — to the extent he answered anything at all:
Tuesday’s White House briefing was Gibbs’ first since the report, prepared by White House counsel Robert Bauer, was released on Friday. One big question about the report concerns Bauer’s statement that, “Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board…” The plural “efforts” and the specific mention of June and July suggest that the White House plan involved more than one approach to Sestak. Yet Sestak says he received just one call, from former President Bill Clinton, the White House intermediary in the effort.
This apparent contradiction raises obvious questions. And so a reporter said to Gibbs Tuesday, “The counsel’s memo on Friday said that efforts were made in June and July of 2009. Were there multiple efforts and were all those made by President Clinton?”
“Whatever is in the memo is accurate,” Gibbs said.
“Okay, but, I mean, with regards to June and July, I mean, were all those President Clinton, or — ”
“I think the relationship on how that happened, yes, is explained in the memo,” Gibbs said.
But that wasn’t explained in the memo at all. The reporter continued: “Joe Sestak said he had one conversation with President Clinton.”
“Let me check,” said Gibbs.
Quite obviously, the stories offered by everyone don’t add up. The notion that anyone would insult the intelligence of a retired Admiral and sitting House member by offering him an unpaid job that would require his retirement from politics in order to give up a Senate bid is nothing but pure fantasy. This administration couldn’t even build a cover story that works and get its fibs straight. Small wonder that Kirsten Powers, an Obama supporter, blasted the Obama administration for change she can no longer believe in:
Ironically, it was Barack Obama who helped usher in these changes, tapping into a disgust with Washington ways and promising an end to those “politics as usual.”
In his campaign announcement speech, Obama highlighted his lack of Beltway experience: “I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.”
Or not. …
Obama promised to change Washington’s culture. Instead, his White House counsel justified the White House move by pointing out that past White Houses have done Sestak-type deals, though he offered no examples.
Charlie Cook, analyzing the current political environment, pointed out in a recent report that, “long-serving Democratic members of Congress identified as having ‘gone Washington’ are especially under threat.” Presumably, the same holds for short-serving Democratic presidents.
It’s not just that nothing’s changed, it’s that Obama is also completely inept at business as usual, too.
Update: Gary Gross offers another explanation of the inconsistency between Sestak and the White House on number of contacts between them, by suggesting that Clinton wasn’t the only one making offers.
Update II: Byron York e-mailed me earlier to note that Gibbs’ remarks aren’t a categorical denial that the offer involved the PIAB — just an acknowledgment that Sestak wouldn’t have qualified for it.