Clinton Source: No Inconsistency in Comments Denying Trying to Get Sestak out of Senate Race

Aug 13, 2010 7:04pm

Republicans are making hay about comments former President Bill Clinton made Tuesday in Scranton, Penn., where he was campaigning for Rep. Joe Sestak's Senate campaign, saying they create a third narrative about suggestions that the White House offered Sestak a job if he agreed to not challenge Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Penn., in the Democratic primary.

At a rope line, local NBC reporter Doug Currin asked Clinton: "Mr. President, why did you campaign for Sestak if you tried to get him out of the race? Why did you campaign for Sestak if you were in line with getting him out of the race?"

Clinton responded: "I wasn't — I didn't try to get him out of the race."

"For Arlen Specter?" said Currin.

"I didn't try to get him out of the race," Clinton repeated.

"You did not?" Currin said.

"I did not," Clinton said. "I wasn't even accused of that."

After this exchange hit the media, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a statement saying: "You know the saying there’s three sides to every story — well, now we have it."

The Issa argument is that in the first version of events, Sestak said he'd been offered a job if he didn't challenge Specter.

The second version, Issa says, is the White House memo from May allowing that the White House had asked Clinton to sound out Sestak on whether he would be willing to stay in the House, with possible discussions of a seat on a presidential board, though the White House insisted nothing improper happened.

Issa says that Clinton's comments in Scranton constitute a denial and hence a "third" story.

"Admiral Sestak has repeatedly said he was offered a ‘job’ in an effort to obtain his withdrawal from the Senate primary,” Issa said yesterday. “The White House has said ‘efforts were made in June and July’ in said job as well as the admission that they ‘enlisted’ former President Clinton to make the overture. President Clinton says he ‘never tried to get Sestak out of the race.’ Who’s telling the truth?”

A source close to Clinton denies that there is any inconsistency, suggesting that the president’s remarks were a reflection of what he actually did.

The former president didn’t try to get Sestak out of the race, the source says. Rather, he was something of an emissary, delivering a message from the White House exploring whether or not Sestak would be willing to stay in the House — not that Clinton himself was seeking Sestak to not run.

Sestak quickly shot down the idea, the source tells ABC News, after which the former President said something along the lines of “That’s what I thought you’d say,” and that conversation topic came to a close.

But Republicans are jumping on whatever confusion this denial creates to renew questions about the Sestak controversy as the competitive Senate race between Sestak and former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., enters the home stretch.

-Jake Tapper

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