The White House is just making more trouble for itself with its refusal to come clean on the Sestak affair — Joe Sestak’s claim that he was offered a job in the administration if he would not run against Arlen Specter, the party-switcher who won Obama’s backing in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary for Senator. As all political junkies know, Sestak won the primary. He ran a savvy campaign, tying Specter to George W. Bush and painting himself as an outsider.
To boost his outsider creds, he announced during the campaign that the White House had tried to lure him out of the race with a job offer. And he repeated that claim over the weekend.
The White House, meanwhile, has played a dumb and damaging game of admitting, sort of, that some kind of offer was made, without saying exactly what. From the WaPo editorial page:
“NOTHING inappropriate happened,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says about the job offer that Rep. Joe Sestak, now the Democratic nominee for a Pennsylvania Senate seat, claims the White House dangled to induce him to back away from challenging incumbent Arlen Specter. “It has been looked into,” adds White House senior adviser David Axelrod, and “nothing inappropriate happened.”
That may be — but high-handed, conclusory assurances from the White House are not enough to satisfy legitimate questions about the episode. Mr. Sestak has said for months — and he repeated this weekend — that the White House offered him a job if he would stay out of the primary race against Mr. Specter. Asked whether it was the position of Navy secretary, Mr. Sestak, a retired admiral, declined to comment — though the timeline (a new Navy secretary had just been confirmed) makes that unlikely.
I don’t believe Obama or any of his aides were dumb enough to offer an explicit quid pro quo, which could be construed as a bribe. But I do believe that they played a game that’s often played — trying to lure a pesky competitor out of the running.
This story isn’t going to go away until Obama tells the public what happened. The voters deserve to know. After all,
The White House position that everyone should just trust it and go away is unacceptable from any administration; it is especially hypocritical coming from this one. “I’m not going to get further into what the conversations were,” Mr. Gibbs said Sunday. “People that have looked into them assure me that they weren’t inappropriate in any way.” This response would hardly have satisfied those who were upset during the previous administration about the firing of U.S. attorneys. If there was nothing improper, why not all that sunlight Mr. Obama promised?
The president has enough problems to handle that were not of his making, including unemployment, a huge oil slick and al-Qaida. It’s really dumb of him to allow a problem of his own making to fester like this.