Political Hay

Clinton Denies White House Version of Jobsgate Scandal

Issa pounces after Ex-President denies he tried to get Sestak out of Senate race.

By 8.13.10

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Uh-oh.

Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning this week for Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee Joe Sestak, has been caught on video contradicting the Obama White House official statement on the Jobsgate scandal. 

Not once. Not twice. But three times.

The scandal involved a February allegation by Sestak that the Obama White House offered him a job if he would back off a challenge to incumbent Democratic Senator Arlen Specter. After months of silence and controversy swirling around the issue, the White House was forced to admit it had in fact not only offered a position to Sestak but offered a choice of three to Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff. Romanoff was preparing a bid against incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, a race he lost to Bennet on Tuesday.

California Congressman Darrell Issa, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has seen the tape and immediately pounced, pointedly noting there seemed to be "three sides" to the Jobsgate story.

First, the background.

On Tuesday, August 10, the former President was in Wilkes-Barre in Northeastern Pennsylvania to campaign for Sestak, who defeated Specter in the May primary and is now in a tight race against Republican nominee Pat Toomey.

Working the crowd at the Sestak event, Clinton is questioned by reporter Doug Currin of WBRE-TV, an NBC affiliate. Here's the clip, with the words from the hard-to-hear tape on screen. I've reprinted below.

REPORTER: Why did you campaign for Sestak if you tried to get him out of the race?

In the din, the reporter shouts the question a second time at Clinton, who is standing but a few feet away:

REPORTER: Why did you campaign for Sestak if you were in line with getting him out of the race?

CLINTON: I wasn't. I didn't try to get him out of the race.

REPORTER: For Arlen Specter?

CLINTON: I didn't try to get him out of the race.

REPORTER: You did not?

CLINTON: I did not. In fact, I wasn't even accused of that.

REPORTER: Did you meet with Mr. Sestak?

At that point Clinton stops answering.

Now.

On May 28, 2010, the White House issued this statement. The relevant paragraph is the fifth one, which reads in its entirety (highlights mine):

White House staff did not discuss these options with Congressman Sestak. 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.

In other words, in this memo released under the name of White House Counsel Robert Bauer, the Obama White House specifically says White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel "enlisted" Clinton "who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak" potential job "options" that were to be considered as "alternatives" to a Sestak Senate candidacy.

Yet in Wilkes-Barre this week, the former President is on tape reluctantly answering questions from reporter Currin saying something completely different:

"I didn't try to get him out of the race" Clinton first says. Then, pressed, he repeats his denial a second time: "I didn't try to get him out of the race." Pressed still further, he makes a third denial: "I did not. In fact, I wasn't even accused of that."

That makes three times. Three staunch denials that the White House ever enlisted him to, as the White House itself said, "raise with Congressman Sestak options of service."

The Obama White House said it did.

Bill Clinton says it's not true.

This was too much for Congressman Issa, who promptly put out his own statement saying there were now apparently "three sides" to the Jobsgate scandal. 

You know the saying there's three sides to every story, well, now we have it. Admiral Sestak has repeatedly said he was offered a "job" in an effort to obtain his withdrawal from the Senate Primary. The White House has said "efforts were made in June AND July" in said job as well as the admission that they "enlisted" former President Clinton to make the overture. President Clinton says he "never tried to get Sestak out of the race." Who's telling the truth?

If, as even White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has conceded, the GOP takes back the House in November, Issa will surely be opening a full-scale investigation of Jobsgate.

From Colorado, a terse Andrew Romanoff has promised in a live radio interview that he would cooperate with Issa. Sestak's willingness to commit to cooperation with Issa will surely now emerge as an issue in his own campaign - particularly now that Clinton has re-opened the Jobsgate issue.

A hat tip here to Ben Barrack of Barrack Media, Inc. in Texas.

The Virtual Newsroom at work.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.