Opinion: Bill Clinton was White House conduit to Sestak in failed bid to save Specter. Next, Bill tries to rescue Blanche Lincoln (Updated)

Share via

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

(UPDATED: The full texts of the memo by White House counsel Robert Bauer and statements by Rep. Sestak and Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, have been added below.)

Details are still sketchy, but sources are telling reporters that former President Bill Clinton -- not the Obama White House -- sounded out Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) on how serious he was about running for the Senate in Pennsylvania, and whether there might be any other position in Washington that might tempt him.

The feelers reportedly involved unpaid advisory positions -- like an appointment to the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board -- because White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel wanted to protect Sestak’s seat in the House -- and to keep Specter’s in the Senate.


The White House counsel’s office released a statement Friday explaining its involvement.

What is evident already is that the White House wanted to clear the primary field for once-Republican now-Democrat Arlen Specter. The effort failed as the 58-year-old Sestak, a former rear admiral, bested the 80-year-old Specter. In the process, Sestak uncorked one of the best ads of the primary season.

Maybe Clinton will have more luck with his next political rescue mission -- saving embattled Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, the state they both call home. Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, backed by the unions and liberal advocacy groups like, is surging as the two head for the finish line in the June 8 primary.

So maybe this is what President Obama and Clinton were talking about at their private lunch in the White House Thursday.

Related Item:

Karl Rove: Either Sestak is lying or he’s covering for a felon in the White House

-- Johanna Neuman

A note to readers. This is my last Ticket item, at least for awhile. I’m taking a leave of absence for the summer to take a history course at American University and decide whether to enroll as a graduate student in the fall, and to assess whether, if I do, I can juggle both blogging and studying.


Either way, a big thank-you to my editors and partners at Top of the Ticket, especially Andrew Malcolm, for supporting my work, to the copy desk for catching any mistakes before they hit the blogosphere and especially to the readers. You make The Ticket so unusual, and so essential -- a community of politically savvy individuals who agree on very little except their passion for a subject that is at the heart of democracy.

Click here to receive Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Follow us @latimestot Or Like our Facebook page right here.

Memo from Robert F. Bauer, White House Counsel, May 28, 2010

Recent press reports have reflected questions and speculation about discussions between White House staff and Congressman Joe Sestak in relation to his plans to run for the United States Senate. Our office has reviewed those discussions and claims made about them, focusing in particular on the suggestion that government positions may have been improperly offered to the Congressman to dissuade him from pursuing a Senate candidacy.

We have concluded that allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack a basis in the law.

Secretary of the Navy: It has been suggested that the Administration may have offered Congressman Sestak the position of Secretary of the Navy in the hope that he would accept the offer and abandon a Senate candidacy. This is false. The President announced his intent to nominate Ray Mabus to be Secretary of the Navy on March 26, 2009, over a month before Senator Specter announced that he was becoming a member of the Democratic Party in late April. Mabus was confirmed in May. At no time was Congressman Sestak offered, nor did he seek, the position of Secretary of the Navy.

Uncompensated Advisory Board Options: We found that, as the Congressman has publicly and accurately stated, options for Executive Branch service were raised with him. Efforts 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 for which he was highly qualified. The advisory positions discussed with Congressman Sestak, while important to the work of the Administration, would have been uncompensated.


White House staff did not discuss these options with Congressman Sestak. The White House Chief of Staff enlisted the support of former President Clinton who agreed to raise with Congressman Sestak options of service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board. Congressman Sestak declined the suggested alternatives, remaining committed to his Senate candidacy.

Relationship to Senate Campaign: It has been suggested that discussions of alternatives to the Senate campaign were improperly raised with the Congressman. There was no such impropriety. The Democratic Party leadership had a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight and a legitimate concern about the Congressman vacating his seat in the House. By virtue of his career in public service, including his distinguished military service, Congressman Sestak was viewed to be highly qualified to hold a range of advisory positions in which he could, while holding his House seat, have additional responsibilities of considerable potential interest to him and value to the Executive Branch.

There have been numerous reported instances in the past when prior Administrations -- both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals -- discussed alternative paths to service for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office. Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements. ####

Statement by Rep. Sestak

Last summer, I received a phone call from President Clinton. During the course of the conversation, he expressed concern over my prospects if I were to enter the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and the value of having me stay in the House of Representatives because of my military background.

He said that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had spoken with him about my being on a Presidential Board while remaining in the House of Representatives. I said no. I told President Clinton that my only consideration in getting into the Senate race or not was whether it was the right thing to do for Pennsylvania working families and not any offer. The former President said he knew I’d say that, and the conversation moved on to other subjects.

There are many important challenges facing Pennsylvania and the rest of the country. I intend to remain focused on those issues and continue my fight on behalf of working families. ###


Statement by Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee

In the three months since Joe Sestak first made his allegation the White House has denied, stonewalled and is now trying to downplay the claims with an unsubstantiated memo.

This memo frankly raises more questions: What was Bill Clinton authorized to offer? Did President Obama sign off on this conversation before it took place? Now more than ever it is clear that this White House is not capable of policing itself and needs to open itself to an independent investigation.

But perhaps most disturbing is that this is an administration that claims to be the most transparent, accountable and ethical White House in history. The only thing we know for certain now is that they have failed on all three counts. ####