It was just something I'd been hearing about from a variety of sources. Was it true? I didn't know, but I decided to pop the question. During the taping of my Comcast Network Voice of Reason show, which airs Sunday night at 9:30, I asked Congressman Joe Sestak: "Is it true that you were offered a high ranking job in the administration in a bid to get you to drop out of the primary against Arlen Specter?" Sestak looked a little surprised by the question. He said, "Yes." I asked him if the job was Navy Secretary. He said, "I can't comment on that." In the next few seconds, he admitted that it was a "high up" job, that it came from the White House, and that he didn't accept the offering. He proceeded to say that nothing will stop him from completing the race against Specter for the Democratic nomination. Was I surprised? A little. After all, I was just probing. Two hours later, I called the White House press office. I played the tape, and asked for a reaction. They never called back. That didn't surprise me. If it did happen, and if they did try to get Sestak out of the race, how could they deny it?
The "mainstream" press ignored the story for weeks. When White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs addressed the controversy on March 16, 2010, the strategy was clear: Dodge, baby, dodge. After first denying any contact with Sestak took place, Gibbs changed course and admitted a conversation had occurred. Then he urged the reporters to move on. From the White House press briefing transcript:
Question: Robert, perhaps a sore point, but Congressman Darrell Issa has accused you, Robert Gibbs, of being part of a cover-up because you will not say whether the White House offered Joe Sestak a job for not running against Arlen Specter. Guilty or not guilty? Mr. Gibbs: Look, I've talked to several people in the White House; I've talked to people that have talked to others in the White House. I'm told that whatever conversations have been had are not problematic. I think Congressman Sestak has discussed that this is -- whatever happened is in the past, and he's focused on his primary election.
No doubt Gibbs had been well-advised by the lawyers at the White House to choose his words carefully about the ethically and legally suspect deal. Unlike Gibbs, the U.S. code governing bribery, graft, and conflicts of interest is straightforward: "Whoever solicits or receives . . . any. . . thing of value, in consideration of the promise of support or use of influence in obtaining for any person any appointive office or place under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."