It wasn’t much of a story when it started. Joe Sestak was just a blip on the national political radar; the guy who was obstinately taking on well-known Senator Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania.
So in February when Sestak told Larry Kane that he was offered a “high-ranking” job by the White House if he didn’t run against Specter, the story got little national attention.
However, in Pennsylvania it served to establish Sestak as his own man. That was important in a year when incumbents are the nation’s most endangered species and an angry electorate was desperately seeking “outsiders,” untainted by “politics as usual.” Sestak became the Independent who turned down the White House “insider” deal. It played perfectly against then Republican Arlen Specter’s purely political party switch that gave the president his 60th Democratic vote for the stimulus bill. In short, Specter took the deal; Sestak turned it down.
As we all know, Sestak won and became a player on the national political stage. Now he has a problem. The same revelation that was a brilliant short-term political maneuver is now a potential long-term political disaster.
Joe Scarborough and the crew on MSNBC’s Morning Joe have been beating a daily drum to find out who in the administration made the offer and if it was illegal. Scarborough has made the bold assertion that Sestak was offered the Secretary of the Navy job by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The Republicans have grabbed hold of the issue and are calling for a justice department investigation. Fox News has gone as far as to call the offer a possible “impeachable offense.”
The only fact that gives those claims some credence is both the White House and Joe Sestak’s refusal to give any more information.
In several recent interviews, Sestak is not backing away from the charge that he was offered a “high-ranking” job by someone in the Obama Administration to stay out of the race. But when pressed on specifics, Sestak keeps saying “that’s for others to talk about.”
The “others” presumably are at the White House, and they aren’t talking about specifics either. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is asked about the alleged offer on a daily basis and has adopted the mantra: “We spoke with the people involved and it is not problematic.” But Gibbs refuses to give any more details.
One Meet The Press, David Gregory asked senior White House advisor David Axelrod about the offer and Axelrod distanced himself from blame saying, “I have spoken with the people who looked into this, and they tell me nothing inappropriate happened.” In other words: “Keep me out of this mess.” Later on CNN, Axelrod admitted that, “If such things happened, they would constitute a serious breach of the law.”
If there was an easy way out from under this story for Sestak and the White House, they would have taken it by now. It seems obvious that the “real story” is at the very least embarrassing, and at worst criminal. One thing is clear — the story is not going away. And it would seem that there are only two outcomes for the Democrats and neither is good. Either someone in the White House made an inappropriate and possibly illegal offer to Sestak; or the Congressman exaggerated or outright lied. In other words, either the White House takes a hit or the Sestak campaign takes a hit.
No matter what, this is bad for the Democrats going into November’s midterm elections, when they were already expected to suffer big losses. If the Republicans do win a majority in Congress, they will have subpoena power and that is when things will really get bad for all involved. That is why it is so strange that the White House has not put this fire out yet. Those in power never seem to learn the lesson that it is not the incident but the cover-up that can be devastating. And this is certainly starting to feel like a cover-up.
You would have to believe that the White House and Sestak are trying to come up with a story that gives each some wiggle room. “It was all just a big misunderstanding,” is what we can expect to hear.
That answer does save the White House, but will undoubtedly cost Sestak. He then comes off as a political opportunist and, even worse, the “insider” he fought so hard not to be.