Clinton Enlisted To Get Sestak To Drop Senate Bid

The White House released a statement from Counsel Bob Bauer recounting the sequence of events by which Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, a contender for the U.S. Senate, was offered a position on a presidential advisory board in 2009. Bauer's report said the offer was made by former President Bill Clinton, acting as an intermediary. Republicans had cried foul, saying laws may have been broken in an effort to keep Sestak out of the Democratic primary, which he eventually won.

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The White House today gave its version of a story that has dogged it for weeks, that Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak was offered an administration job if he would drop out of a Senate race in Pennsylvania. A Republican congressman responded this afternoon by asking the FBI to investigate.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: The administration's account comes in a short memo written by White House Counsel Robert Bauer. He says Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel recruited former President Bill Clinton in July of 2009 to talk to Sestak's people about getting Sestak out of the Senate primary in Pennsylvania, a race Sestak ultimately won earlier this month.

At the time, President Obama was endorsing incumbent Arlen Specter, who had just switched parties from the GOP. Bauer says everything was legitimate, that Sestak could be appointed to a presidential advisory board - which is not a paying job, and would not require him to give up his House seat.

This afternoon, Sestak spoke with reporters at the Capitol. He recounted the talk with Mr. Clinton.

Representative Joe Sestak (Democrat, Pennsylvania): This portion of the conversation probably lasted I mean, I'm not exactly sure of the time, but I would say 30 to 60 seconds.

OVERBY: He said Mr. Clinton raised the idea of an appointment, and when Sestak quickly deflected it...

Rep. SESTAK: He chuckled and said, Joe, I knew you were going to say that.

OVERBY: At his own press conference, California Republican Darrel Issa said the White House memo doesn't settle anything.

Representative DARRELL ISSA (Republican, California): Now that they have given us this, they've given, certainly, a valid reason for further investigation.

OVERBY: Already this week, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Attorney General Eric Holder to name a special counsel. Issa said House Republicans will take a different tack.

Rep. ISSA: The Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are today sending a letter to Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, asking him to open an investigation in a similar fashion to the one done under the Clinton White House so-called Travelgate.

OVERBY: But the laws about bribery and corruption are aimed at attempts to gain a job or to gain someone's political support.

Mr. PETER ZEIDENBERG (Litigation Partner, DLA Piper): I don't think the statutes that have been discussed apply to situations such as this.

OVERBY: That's former Justice Department Prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg. He said politicians are always plotting who's getting which job.

Mr. ZEIDENBERG: What prosecutor would want to get in the middle of that conversation? It's a non-starter.

OVERBY: And Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer in the White House of George W. Bush, says plenty of members of Congress already serve on advisory boards.

Professor RICHARD PAINTER (Corporate Law, University of Minnesota Law School): The notion that somehow an advisory position board - position is a bribe is laughable.

OVERBY: The way Painter sees it, politics permeate government in an election year and always have.

Prof. PAINTER: To selectively start bringing up that statute to apply to this situation, it's somewhat hypocritical and it doesn't make any sense.

OVERBY: Congressman Issa said Republicans in Congress will continue to press the issue.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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