It’s been the story that won’t die in Pennsylvania’s Senate race: clumsy attempts by the White House to push Rep. Joe Sestak out of the Democratic primary in favor of incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter.
The furor seemed to die down after both White House officials and Sestak said May 28 that former President Bill Clinton had called Sestak at the request of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and dangled before the congressman the possibility of a position on a presidential advisory board on national security if he stayed in the House.
But now, Clinton is denying that he tried to get Sestak out of the race, and the Internet and Fox News are abuzz with the notion that somebody must have been lying when the White House counsel’s office released its report on the job offer.
“I didn’t try to get him out of the race,” Clinton told a reporter for WBRE-TV, the NBC affiliate in Scranton, who shouted questions as the former president shook hands in a crowd Tuesday. “In fact, I wasn’t even accused of that,” Clinton said.
Sestak shrugged it off Thursday, saying Clinton was merely an emissary.
“President Clinton was carrying a message,” said Sestak, after speaking to diners at a Harrisburg barbeque restaurant about his plan for small businesses. “It was no secret Washington wanted me out of the race.”
In May, Sestak’s account was different. He said that Clinton expressed concern about his chances in a Senate primary, argued that his military background (Sestak is a retired Navy admiral) was an asset to the House, and offered the possibility of a presidential appointment to the influential advisory board.
Sestak kicked off the whole “-gate” in February, acknowledging that he had been offered a role by the White House to forego a challenge to Specter. He would not provide details and refused to for more than three months, until questions reached a crescendo after the May 18 primary victory.
“Clearly, Joe Sestak, the White House, and President Clinton do not have all of their talking points straight on this story," said Nachama Soloveichik, spokeswoman for Sestak's Republican opponent, Pat Toomey. "It would be helpful to everyone if Joe Sestak would finally come clean on exactly what happened," she said.
Republicans in Congress continue to call for investigations into whether the White House acted illegally.