- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, called Sunday for an independent investigation of whether the White House offered a job to persuade Rep. Joe Sestak to end his Senate run, in the wake of administration admissions Friday that it had put out feelers to Mr. Sestak via former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Issa, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” he wants the FBI or the Justice Department to investigate the White House’s discussions with Mr. Sestak, Pennsylvania Democrat, about dropping his bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, who had support from President Obama.

“If they offered a job, it’s a crime,” Mr. Issa said. “It’s clearly a crime. What the White House is now saying happened falls under the statute.”

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Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell acknowledged mishandling of the matter by the Obama administration, but downplayed the matter, saying Republicans were attempting to criminalize “hard-knuckle politics.”

“This is why people think Washington is crazy,” the Democratic governor said. “This happens all the time.”

Asked whether the incident contradicts Mr. Obama’s campaign promises of a more transparent and more ethical Washington, Mr. Rendell said the president promised change, but “he didn’t say he was going to change everything about everything.”

“Has he changed hard-knuckle politics? No,” he said.

Mr. Rendell did criticize the White House for “stonewalling” on the topic, something he said was “not smart.”

Mr. Sestak did not drop his campaign and went on to defeat Mr. Specter in the May 18 Democratic primary. He will face Republican Pat Toomey in November.

The White House confirmed Friday that Mr. Clinton had acted as a go-between with Mr. Sestak. A day earlier, the president said there was “nothing improper” about the White House’s conduct.

Friday’s report came amid heavy pressure from Democrats and Republicans for the White House to provide details about Mr. Sestak’s repeated contention that he was offered a job if he would pull out of the race.

In the two-page report, White House lawyer Robert F. Bauer said the job offered was a nonpaying, advisory board position in the executive branch and that accusations of improper conduct by the administration “rest on factual error and lack a basis in the law.”

The report also stated the White House had no direct contact with Mr. Sestak, but that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel “enlisted the support” of Mr. Clinton to speak with Mr. Sestak.

Mr. Sestak said he received only one call, last summer, from Mr. Clinton on the issue.

“During the course of the conversation, [Mr. Clinton] expressed concern over my prospects if I were to enter the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and the value of having me stay in the House of Representatives because of my military background,” Mr. Sestak said in a written statement. “He said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had spoken with him about my being on a presidential board while remaining in the House.”

Mr. Sestak said he almost cut off Mr. Clinton in saying “no” and that his only consideration about the race was “whether it was the right thing to do for Pennsylvania working families” and that Mr. Clinton said he expected such a response. The conversation then “moved on to other subjects.”

Mr. Sestak said during a Capitol Hill press conference he did think the offer was illegal.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Rendell recounted what he called a similar event a few years ago.

“I did the same thing in 2006 to ask former Congressman Joe Hoeffel to drop out of the race against Bob Casey in the primary,” he said.

When Fox moderator Chris Wallace asked him, “Did you offer him a job?” Mr. Rendell responded, “I said come back and see me if you do it. He came back and saw me. And he was out of public service; I appointed him as a deputy secretary of commerce. He did a great job.”

Mr. Issa, who appeared with Mr. Rendell in the segment, responded by pointing out the key difference between the Hoeffel and Sestak cases.

“I think Governor Rendell just said it very well. He carefully made sure he did not offer him a job as a quid pro quo,” Mr. Issa said. “Governor Rendell just made the point for us. If he had offered a job in order to get out of the race, it would have been a crime - a crime under a law signed, of all things, by President Clinton during his administration, the last update. If you offer a job or a position, 18 USC 600 clearly says that is a crime.”

Mr. Issa also called the White House’s account “a non-plausible answer,” because in order to accept even an unpaid administration job, Mr. Sestak would have had to not only not challenge Mr. Specter for the Senate seat, but give up his House seat.

“The real question, Chris, [is]: Do we believe this is a further cover-up, because they’re now talking about a job that President Clinton should have known Sestak couldn’t take,” Mr. Issa said.

On Wednesday, the seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee made a similar request to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Still, such a request is unlikely from the full committee, where Democrats are in the majority.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said the White House response is further proof the administration needs to “open itself” to an independent investigation.

“In the three months since Joe Sestak first made his allegation, the White House has denied, stonewalled and is now trying to downplay the claims with an unsubstantiated memo,” Mr. Steele said. “This memo frankly raises more questions: What was Bill Clinton authorized to offer? Did President Obama sign off on this conversation before it took place?”

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 last week. Mr. Sestak has said he would cooperate in any investigation.

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