Reigniting a political controversy, former President Bill Clinton this week contradicted the Obama White House, telling a Pennsylvania TV station that he never encouraged U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak to drop out of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race - as the White House claimed in May.
On Tuesday, Aug. 10, as Clinton campaigned for Sestak in Scranton, Pa., a reporter with the NBC affiliate in Wilkes-Barre asked Clinton why he was in Pennsylvania campaigning for Sestak if he had once tried to get him to drop out of the Senate race.
"I never tried to get him out of the race," Clinton replied. "I've never even been accused of that," he added in response to a follow-up question.
Clinton's denial on Tuesday represents a third version of events, said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been looking into the matter.
"You know the saying there's three sides to every story -- well, now we have it," Issa said.
In the first version of events, Sestak repeated for months that the White House had offered him an administration job in exchange for dropping his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter. Specter said such an offer would legally constitute a bribe.
In version two, the White House -- after months of refusing to answer questions about what happened -- issued a memo in May saying the White House had asked Bill Clinton to talk to Sestak about serving on an unpaid advisory panel while continuing to serve in the House. The memo, written by White House Counsel Robert Bauer, referred to discussions in "June and July of 2009" and said that nothing improper had happened.
Version three came with Clinton's denial on Tuesday.
"Admiral Sestak has repeatedly said he was offered a ‘job' in an effort to obtain his withdrawal from the Senate primary," Issa said on Thursday. "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?"
As CNSNews.com has reported, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs would not say what position Sestak was offered.
After Bauer's memo was issued in May, Sestak said he believed he was offered a spot on the president's intelligence advisory board. Regarding his conversation with former President Bill Clinton, Sestak told reporters, "I heard presidential board and I think it was intel."
Bauer's one-and-a-half memo explained that former President Bill Clinton, acting on behalf of the Obama administration, had offered Sestak an unpaid role on a presidential advisory board.
According to the Bauer memo, "efforts (plural) 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."
However, the memo mentions only one conversation between Clinton and Sestak.
The Bauer memo said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel recruited Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an unpaid position on a presidential advisory board while remaining a U.S. congressman.
But as a House member, Sestak could not serve on an executive branch board. As the White House Web site notes, the president's intelligence advisory board "consists of not more than 16 members appointed by the President from among individuals who are not employed by the Federal Government." (emphasis added)
Sestak faces Republican Pat Toomey, a former congressman, in November.