On six different occasions, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has offered six different responses to straightforward questions regarding Rep. Joe Sestak’s, D-Pa., accusation that he was offered a plum appointment in exchange for his withdrawal from a primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
Sestak has been clear. For months his story hasn’t changed. Sestak has gone on record that in July 2009 the White House offered him a federal job to keep him out of the Pennsylvania Senate race.
He will not divulge the name of the person who offered the position, and he will not disclose the nature of the job that was offered. But the essence of his story has not changed, and he has not walked-back his allegation.
The law is also clear. If President Obama – or anyone else at the White House for that matter – used his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for federal office, then a felony has been committed subject to both a fine and a prison sentence.
Clearly, these are very serious charges. The White House, however, seems to subscribe to the notion that if they ignore the issue and stonewall questions from the media and Congress alike, the issue will simply go quietly away. The underlying question for the American people is: Will we let them get away with it?
I have now sent two letters to the White House – both of which remain unanswered – asking some straightforward questions about who offered Sestak a position, what position was offered, when and under what conditions the offer was made, and what investigation the administration is conducting to determine the extent of the crime.
After being asked day-after-day in White House briefings, Gibbs finally acknowledged that something had happened and that he, the press secretary, personally discussed the matter with several White House staffers and concluded that “whatever conversations have been had are not problematic” and that “whatever happened is in the past.”
A few off-hand questions posed by the chief press aide hardly constitutes the type of inquiry that is warranted by a serious charge of criminal conduct on the part of administration officials. The arrogance is apparent in Gibbs’s assertion that the American people need not worry about illegal activity in the White House because the press secretary has read a memo or two and bumped into fellow staffers at the water cooler.
The White House’s insistence that Sestak’s allegation of a corrupt offer isn’t “problematic” is indicative of the disturbing Chicago-style mindset that pervades this administration. Either the congressman is telling the truth, and administration officials have broken the law, or he’s lying, in which case his outrageous falsehood should be exposed. Until we get answers, the questions aren’t going away.
Frankly, if what Gibbs says is true, there is no reason why the White House shouldn’t be willing to put forward who said what and when. Their refusal to offer a real explanation only reinforces the unavoidable conclusion that the White House is hiding something.
The bottom line is if the White House continues to stonewall Congress and the American people, I will petition the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to launch an investigation into the allegation. In the meantime, I fear we’re in for more obtuse and evasive statements from administration officials. In that case, the White House will be falling back on a concerted scheme and cover-up strategy not seen in Washington since the days of Watergate.
Somebody might want to remind the president how that story ended.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.