Report: White House Had Clinton Offer Intelligence Position to Sestak to Drop Out of Race Against Specter

After months of evading questions, the White House appears to have confirmed that it did play a leading role in trying to get Rep. Joe Sestak to drop out of the race against now defeated Sen. Arlen Specter. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reportedly asked former President Bill Clinton to offer an unpaid position on an intelligence board in exchange for Sestak pulling out.

While many Democrats have dismissed this as just politics as usual, I consider it a bit more serious. It is remarkable how quickly Democrats have forgiven such abuses and condemned those who object as simply naive. This is precisely what moral relativists in politics want of voters: to treat all political corruption as a fixed reality of government.

The White House is not allowed to trade government positions for political advantages. It is particularly abusive to hand out positions in the intelligence field — particularly with the continued intelligence failures of the last year. What makes this even more outrageous is that Sestak did not even quality for the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, here. It is a deal that is vintage Beltway. President Obama was supporting an establishment candidate (Specter) who switched parties for pure political convenience over a popular Democratic candidate by treating intelligence positions like party favors. The effort to protect Specter reinforces the view of a political establishment that is solely committed to the maintenance of its duopoly of control — treating voters as utter chumps. All of this was done in secret of course to leave Pennsylvania Democrats with the illusion of actually having a voice in the matter.

Yet, the White House insists that there was nothing “improper” — let alone criminal — in trading such positions for political advantage. The condemnation of such corrupt practices should not be confined to conservative commentators and GOP activists. There was a time when voters demanded more from our leaders — when there was a quaint notion of propriety in government service.

To Sestak’s credit, he refused to be bought despite his work in the Navy and interest in intelligence matters.

For the full story, click here and here.

26 thoughts on “Report: White House Had Clinton Offer Intelligence Position to Sestak to Drop Out of Race Against Specter”

  1. Jersey McJones,

    My understanding is that Admiral Sestak could have taken the job he was offered without giving up his position in the House (in fact, the administration wanted him to give up his Senate bid and stay in the House).

  2. Sesatk is eminently qualified for the intelligence positon and could easily have left office for it. To say that putting Sestak in such a position is even vaguely akin to “treating intelligence positions like party favors” is an insult to the Vice-Admiral and to the intelligence of your readers.

    What the White House did does smack of sleazy politics. Your indirect impugning of Joe Sestak is as well.


  3. Alan,

    I agree with you – I would just add that it is far from clear that Sestak will be reliably a more liberal vote than the Democratic version of Specter although obviously either of them are much better than Toomey.


    It looks like Blanche Lincoln may suffer the same fate as Specter (and there is a good chance that the seat will flip to the Republicans in the fall in either case – 92% according to What will happen with Lieberman in 2012 is far from clear (as is who will support him). It seems likely at this point that the Democrats will field a strong candidate, but they obviously cannot primary ol’ Droopy. In a worst-case scenario, this could result in a Republican winning a very blue state for a six year term (I’m guessing that, like Scott Brown in MA, any Republican would be virtually assured of losing the next election in CT). Also in 2012 the effect of President Obama on the ticket has to be considered (likely to be a positive for Democrats, but we wont know for sure until 2012).

  4. Oh yeh. I’m happy the Obama administration made a deal with Specter that got them 60 votes for a period of time, happy Sestak ran, happy he ran a clean campaign, happy the Obama administration only did the polite minimum to live up to the deal it had made with Specter, and happy Sestak won. If Sestak wins the general election (knock on wood), it will be hard to see how things could have possibly worked out better.

  5. Alan,

    Sestak, he is most reputable from what I understand.

  6. The fact that this may not have been criminal does not mean that it wasn’t contemptuous of voters in the Democratic party and yet another illustration of the depths the ‘centrist’ wing of the party will sink to in order to elect spineless, right-wing tools whose politics are as far to the right as it’s possible to be.
    This was also politically clueless. As the polls stand Specter was losing badly to Toomey and it’s not as if the Specter suffers from lack of name recognition in PA. Sestak is by far the better campaigner and has a reasonable chance to win.
    I see that Bill Clinton is ‘helping’ Blanche Lincoln in her primary runoff now and I’m positive he and the rest of his sorry lot will ‘help’ Joe Lieberman again in two years.

  7. Bye-bye Arlen … no one is irreplaceable.

    Obama’s beerfest mentality rears its ugly head again. What a bunch of amateurs.

  8. According to MSNBC the White House intervened in a Hawaii primary by offering someone an ambassadorship – that would be the Reagan White House… This doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary in politics. While I certainly don’t mind seeing Admiral Sestak winning the primary as I think he’s more electable, I don’t have any illusions that he’ll be more liberal than Senator Specter was (after the party switch). Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has done some good reporting and number crunching on this:


    I don’t really have a problem with the administration trying to help Specter out (legally) after they convinced him to switch parties and he lived up to his side of the bargin…

  9. In 2002, Minnesota House Minority Leader Tim Pawlenty was running a tight race for the office of U.S. Senator. The White House called. Said, basically, “Norm Coleman’s our boy. We want you to back out of the race and we’ll use our resources to get you elected Governor.”

    Now, THAT is interference you can believe in.

    You can look it up.

  10. Had the previous president done this, the usual suspects would have cited this as yet more proof of his administration’s corruption (and they would have been right). But because the Obama White House did it, that’s fine, apparently. Situational ethics yields its ugly head yet again.

    Anyway, Prof. Turley, when was this bygone era of political nobility? About the only difference between now and the overly romanticized mid-20th century is that now, the media doesn’t cover up for politicians as much (although as Glenn Greenwald frequently notes, that behavior still takes place with alarming frequency).

  11. Isabel,

    I agree with you on the transparency comment, but that’s been apparent for a while.

  12. Is it OK to have mixed feelings about this? I’m disappointed, and I’d be pissed off if I was from Pennsylvania–especially if I was active in the Democratic party. Imagine spending a few years trying to unseat Specter only for the White House to try to shove him down your throats for one last 6 year term . . .

    That said, Republicans don’t really care about this–they’re just looking for any cudgel to make political hay, just like they did with Clinton. Because of that, I really don’t want them to get any traction.

    Can the Democrats kind of huddle up for a minute, tell Pres. Obama “That’s not cool, sir” and move on?

  13. This whole situation really stinks to high heaven. So much for Obama’s pledge of “transparency”. You will note that Rahm was in Israel when Bauer issued his “opinion” [?] and it was released on the Friday before Memorial Day-dead news cyle.

    Months of stonewalling and they come up with an unbelievable story-Sestak offered a position on an intelligence committee he’s not eligible for? That makes no sense. Even if he was eligible, I seriously doubt Sestak would accept this position to drop out of the race.

    Then we have Sestak saying in Feb. on TV that he was offered a “job” to drop out. When he was asked “Secretary of the Navy?” he coyly replied “no comment”. This interchange implies that Sestak was offered a position in the Gov’t, not just an unpaid appointment to some panel.

    However you slice it, if you believe Bauer’s memo, the solicitation was improper at best, criminal at worst and in any event really bungled by the WH.

  14. Alan,

    Would you expect anything less than this from him?

  15. I’ve seen unsavory politics before: when a candidate refused to defer to the establishment choice, the powers-that-be turned the smear machine on him, spreading false rumors that killed his candidacy. Nothing close to that happened here: Sestak declined to back down, ran in fair and gentlemanly contest, and won. There is nothing wrong with forming alliances and horse-trading support, i.e., “if you support our candidate for that position, we’ll support you in this position”. This happens all the time and is as old as mankind. The problem only arises when people resort to dirty tactics to get their way, which did not happen here. If you want to get upset at anything, take a look at how the two major parties have rigged the system to make it extremely unlikely for an independent or third party candidate to win. That is where the real problem lies.

  16. “What makes this even more outrageous is that Sestak did not even quality for the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, [here].”

    Only because he is a current member of congress. Other than that I think his position in the navy should count as his qualifications.

    And the Republicans have asked for an investigation, no surprise to me.

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