UPDATE: The White House Counsel's Office released an official statement today regarding an 'unpaid advisory council' position that was offered to Congressman Joe Sestak by former President Bill Clinton. The White House maintains there was no improper conduct regarding Congressman Sestak. After the White House statement was released, California Representative Darrell Issa (R), who has criticized the administration on this issue, put out his own written statement in response. A short time ago, Congressman Joe Sestak put out his own statement on the matter. To read Sestak's statement, please click here. Below are the White House Counsel's Office Statement and Representative Issa's response.

 

The White House Counsel's Office has released the following statement about any discussions White House officials may have had with Pennsylvania Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak about a job offer in lieu of running against Senator Arlen Specter for a senate seat. Major Garrett questioned President Obama directly about this in Thursday's press conference.

MEMORANDUM FROM ROBERT F. BAUER, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL

SUBJECT: Review of Discussion Relating to Congressman Sestak

Recent press reports have reflected questions and speculation about discussions between White House staff and Congressman Joe Sestak in relation to his plans to run for the United States Senate. Our office has reviewed those discussions and claims made about them, focusing in particular on the suggestion that government positions may have been improperly offered to the Congressman to dissuade him from pursing a Senate candidacy.

We have concluded that allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack a basis in the law.

Secretary of the Navy. It has been suggested that the administration may have offered Congressman Sestak the position of Secretary of the Navy in the hope that he would accept the offer and abandon a Senate candidacy. This is false. The President announced his intent to nominate Ray Mabus to be Secretary of the Navy on March 26, 2009, over a month before Senator Specter announced that he was becoming a member of the Democratic Party in late April. Mabus was confirmed in May. At no time was Congressman Sestak offered, nor did he seek, the position of Secretary of the Navy.

Uncompensated Advisory Board Options. We found that Congressman has publicly and accurately stated, options for Executive Branch service were raised with him. Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with an opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified. The advisory positions discussed with Congressman Sestak, while important to the work of the Administration, would have been uncompensated.

White House staff did not discuss these options with Congressman Sestak. The White House Chief of Staff enlisted the support of former President Clinton who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board. Congressman Sestak declined the suggested alternatives, remaining committed to his Senate candidacy.

Relationship to Senate Campaign. It has been suggested that discussion of alternatives to the Senate campaign were improperly raised with the Congressman. There was no such impropriety. The Democratic Party leadership had a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight and a similarly legitimate concern about the Congressman vacating his seat in the House. By virtue of his career in public service, including distinguished military service, Congressman Sestak was viewed to be highly qualified to hold a range of advisory positions in which he could, while holding his House seat, have additional responsibilities of considerable potential interest to him and value to the Executive Branch.

There have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations - both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals - discussed alternative paths to service for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office. Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.

Issa Written Statement

"After more than ten weeks of outstanding questions, the White House has offered a version of events that has important differences from what Congressman Sestak has been saying for months - that he was offered a 'job' by 'someone in the White House' in exchange for leaving the Pennsylvania Senate race.

"I'm very concerned that in the rush to put together this report, the White House has done everything but explain its own actions and has instead worked to craft a story behind closed doors and coordinate with those involved. The White House has admitted today to coordinating an arrangement that would represent an illegal quid-pro-quo as federal law prohibits directly or indirectly offering any position or appointment, paid or unpaid, in exchange for favors connected with an election.

"President Clinton and Congressman Sestak now need to answer questions about what the White House has released today - that at the behest of the White House Chief of staff, they dispatched a former President to get Joe Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Senate Primary. Regardless of what President Clinton or Congressman Sestak now say, it is abundantly clear that this kind of conduct is contrary to President Obama's pledge to change 'business as usual' and that his Administration has engaged in the kind of political shenanigans he once campaigned to end."