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Sestak: Brother Collaborating With White House

Scandal widens as Colorado Governor Ritter mentioned, Romanoff refuses calls.

By 5.28.10

On Thursday, Congressman Joe Sestak took the centuries old position of all children in trouble: my brother did it.

And his brother? Richard Sestak, the candidate's campaign guru, is now conspiring behind the scenes with the White House on what to say. According to Joe Sestak himself.

In a stunning admission Thursday, the same day President Obama answered Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett's question on the issue at the President's first press conference in almost a year, the Washington Post is reporting this morning that Sestak is now admitting:

"They (the White House) got hold of my brother on his cellphone, and he spoke to the White House… about what's going to occur," said Sestak, who said he expects the White House will release its information Friday. He declined to elaborate on his discussions with his brother.

Get that last line: Congressman Sestak "declined to elaborate on his discussions with his brother."

In other words, in yet another startling revelation, Sestak is now confessing the White House is coordinating their story with his brother -- collaborating on the same day the President was insisting to the nation:

"I can assure the public that nothing improper took place."

The Joe Sestak admission that brother and campaign strategist Richard Sestak is coordinating a future Sestak response with the White House -- a response expected as soon as today -- is certain to increase calls for a special prosecutor. It launches a whole news series of questions:

 What did Richard Sestak and Joe Sestak know, and when did they know it?

 Who from the White House called Richard Sestak yesterday or at any time this week?

 What specifically did Richard Sestak and the unnamed White House official discuss?

 Were there differences in the versions of this story between either of the Sestaks and the White House? 

 Did Richard Sestak collaborate in any fashion with the shaping of either the White House statement or any future statement from his brother in response to whatever the White house will be saying?

 Has Richard Sestak had any other communications with anyone in the White House since his brother's February 19th admission that he, Joe Sestak, was offered a job by the White House?

Perhaps even more startling in his fifteen minute conversation with reporters in the Capitol on Thursday, Congressman Sestak, according to the Post:

…declined to say whether the alleged job offer was inappropriate and defended Obama's integrity. "I think the president's a pretty legitimate, you know, person," he said.

In other words, Joe Sestak himself -- by refusing a chance provided by reporters to say nothing wrong or illegal occurred -- appears to believe that the job offer was in fact wrong. Or "inappropriate" as the Post politely describes this. He flatly refused a chance provided by reporters to say everything was on the up-and-up.

He chose instead to make a general remark that "the president's a pretty legitimate, you know, person."

In a particularly bizarre turn of events, Washington Post reporter Paul Kane tried to compare the Sestak story to the offer of high-level jobs in the Obama administration to then Senator Joe Biden (Vice President), Senator Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State), Congressman Rahm Emanuel (White House Chief of Staff), Senator Ken Salazar (Secretary of the Interior) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (Secretary of Labor). There is no evidence anywhere, of course, that these jobs were offered in exchange for "anything of value" -- one of several quite specific conditions enumerated in federal law. Had, for example, Obama gone to then-Senators Biden and Clinton early in 2008 and said: "Joe and Hillary, if you will not run for president against me I will make Joe Vice President and Hillary Secretary of State" then Obama would indeed have been in very deep legal waters. As would Biden and Clinton.

As mentioned in my initial story on this here on February 22, just such a public accusation was made by a Democratic governor against then-Senator John F. Kennedy in the race for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination. The charge was angrily denied by JFK, quite specifically and correctly telling historian Theodore H. White at the time that "it is a federal offense to offer any man a federal job in return for a favor."

Meanwhile, there is a second leg to this story -- in Colorado. The potential involvement in this story of outgoing Colorado Governor Bill Ritter.

There Democrat Andrew Romanoff, running against incumbent Senator Michael Bennet, was reported by the Denver Post last September to have received a similar jobs-for-withdrawal offer from White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina. That story can be found here.

Romanoff refused the offer -- and in fact just received a leg up from Colorado Democrats with a convention boost of 60% of the delegate votes that will give him an advantageous ballot position in his August primary challenge to Bennet.

I have now called Mr. Romanoff twice, once yesterday afternoon and once this morning, this time on the air with Denver talk radio host Peter Boyles. Once again, the New Media is stepping in to do the job the Old Media won't do, this time in Denver. There has been no response whatsoever from Romanoff.

There has been, however, an interesting development in the Colorado story -- regarding Governor Ritter. In a fashion typical of the mainstream media, the Denver Post, after the initial story last September, has effectively blacked out the blossoming Sestak-Romanoff-White House scandal. Talk show host Boyles urged listeners to contact the Post, which they did. In response, the paper's Public Affair's editor Chuck Murphy, responded with a statement that perhaps unintentionally revealed Governor Ritter's involvement in the Romanoff episode. Murphy, in explaining the reason for a lack of follow-up on the Romanoff story, referred to what he called "the alleged efforts of the Obama and Ritter administrations to dissuade Andrew Romanoff from a primary."

Yet in the story the Post ran back in September, while it mentioned that Romanoff had failed to persuade Ritter to appoint him to the then-vacant seat held by now Interior Secretary Salazar, the story never said Ritter was involved in any effort to have the White House offer Romanoff a job. Now, suddenly, Murphy refers to "the alleged efforts of the Obama and Ritter" administrations -- emphasis mine. In other words, for whatever reason Murphy is saying the Governor was involved in the Jobsgate scandal.

With the President himself now saying personally that his White House will have a statement on the Jobsgate issue "shortly" and Press Secretary Gibbs saying after a constant hammering from reporters that there was "nothing problematic," it appears the word "alleged" could be dropped.

But the eye-opener here is Murphy's inclusion of the sitting Colorado Governor in this scandal. Which leads to another, Colorado-specific set of questions:

 Has Andrew Romanoff, like Richard Sestak, received any phone calls from the White House to discuss the expected statement soon-to-be issued by the White House -- as per the President at his press conference yesterday?

 What did Governor Ritter know -- and when did he know it?

 What contact did Governor Ritter have with the White House at any point in this scandal -- and what contact has he had with the White House as they have prepared their statement for today?

 What contact has there been between Governor Ritter and Andrew Romanoff on this issue? Have they been collaborating to get their stories in line with that of the White House?

If the White House, as expected, releases a statement on this issue today, it will be no accident.

Just as the statement announcing the resignation of controversial Obama White House aide Van Jones was issued on the Sunday midnight of Labor Day Weekend, so now apparently is the Obama White House hoping to sweep the Jobsgate scandal under the rug by issuing a statement on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

This is the oldest Washington trick in the book. They understand full-well Americans will be distracted by family and the first holiday of the summer.

But alas, Tuesday cometh. This story will not go away. And neither will Sean Hannity.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director, an author, and a CNN commentator. He writes from Pennsylvania at and @Jeffjlpa1