- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2010

President Obama insisted Thursday there was “nothing improper” about White House contacts with Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, who has asserted a White House official offered him an administration job if he dropped his primary challenge for Democrat Arlen Specter’s Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

Controversy continues to simmer on Capitol Hill over the purported job offer more than a week after Mr. Sestak upset Mr. Specter for the nomination, despite Mr. Obama’s public backing for the five-term former Republican.

“I can assure the public nothing improper took place,” Mr. Obama said in his first public comments on the incident, speaking near the end of an hourlong press conference at the White House.

Choosing his words carefully, Mr. Obama declined to elaborate on his answer, saying White House lawyers were preparing a fuller response that would be released “shortly, [and] I don’t mean weeks or months.”

Mr. Sestak, a former Navy admiral, made the assertion about a “high-ranking” job offer at least twice - once to a local cable television interviewer Feb. 18 and again after his primary win on Sunday. He has steadfastly declined to say who approached him and which job was discussed. However, Mr. Sestak has said he would cooperate in any investigation.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he was not satisfied with the response so far by Mr. Obama and others on the Sestak-Specter affair.

He said the White House needs to answer the question: Was Mr. Sestak offered a job in return for getting out of the race?

“Partial answers will only lead to more questions,” said Mr. Issa, who has asked the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to the case, a request the department has refused.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele echoed Mr. Issa’s sentiment.

“The silence is rapidly becoming deafening. How many days are needed and how many hours of negotiations between Joe Sestak and the Obama administration are required to simply tell the truth?”

It is not just Republicans who are pressing for more details. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, have both publicly pressed the White House and Mr. Sestak in recent days to clear up questions surrounding their contacts.

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat who supported Mr. Specter, said the White House and Mr. Sestak should be as transparent as possible and that trying to “stonewall” will only make the situation “fester” and only add to the pressure to appoint a special prosecutor.

“People are going to interpret this worse than it probably is,” he told Fox News. “I do not believe that anybody in the White House was crazy enough to say, ‘You can have this specific job if you withdraw.’ “

Mr. Issa was among the first Hill Republicans to press for answers in the controversy. On Tuesday, seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee made a similar request in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

Utah Sen. Ornin G. Hatch, one of the seven, indicated his course of action will be determined by the more-detailed White House response.

“Senator Hatch will have to review this report to determine if he’s satisfied,” said spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier.

GOP critics cite federal laws that essentially make it a misdemeanor to offer or accept something of value to obtain an appointment to public office or for a federal official to “use his authority” to “interfere with or affect” an election.

Some private scholars say it may be hard to prove that a job offer constitutes an illegal political quid pro quo, but the controversy has proved a distraction for the White House and overshadowed the opening of Mr. Sestak’s campaign against GOP nominee Pat Toomey.

“The allegations in this matter are very serious and, if true, suggest a possible violation of various federal criminal laws intended to safeguard our political process from the taint of bribes and political machine manipulation,” the Senate GOP letter said. “The White House cannot possibly manage an internal investigation of potential criminal misconduct while simultaneously crafting a public narrative to rebut the claim that misconduct occurred.”

Such a request is unlikely from the full committee, where Democrats are in the majority.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod and other top administration officials have repeatedly maintained nothing inappropriate occurred, while offering up few details of their discussions with Mr. Sestak.

On Monday, Mr. Axelrod said on CNN that conversations between Mr. Sestak and the administration official were “perfectly appropriate.” However, he also said no questions “will be left unanswered,” and that if Mr. Sestak’s assertions were true, “they would constitute a serious breach of the law.”

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