WASHINGTON -- Former President Bill Clinton, on the direction of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, approached Rep. Joe Sestak about serving on an executive branch advisory board in order to get him out of the Pennsylvania Senate race, the White House confirmed today.
Mr. Sestak first mentioned an offer during a February television interview and has said it was for a high-ranking position without offering details, but the White House said this morning that any position would have been uncompensated and allowed Mr. Sestak to continue in his congressional seat.
A memo prepared by White House counsel Robert F. Bauer said the White House had two goals in reaching out to Mr. Sestak: avoid a divisive Democratic primary fight against Sen. Arlen Specter, who earned White House support after his party switch, and keep Mr. Sestak in his competitive congressional seat.
Mr. Sestak quickly refused the offer, made last summer when he was openly considering but had not formally announced a run, and defeated Mr. Specter in the primary last week. Mr. Sestak now faces Republican Pat Toomey for the Senate seat. Mr. Bauer's memo flatly denied the wide speculation that Mr. Sestak was offered the Secretary of the Navy position, pointing out that Ray Mabus was nominated for the slot by President Barack Obama in March -- before Mr. Specter switched parties.
The position mentioned in a phone call from Mr. Clinton, according to a source with knowledge of the conversations, was on a national security related executive advisory board, and would have not been a paid position. Because Mr. Sestak rejected the offer, a specific position was not discussed, the source said.
Mr. Sestak, a former three-star admiral in the Navy, served in the Clinton White House on the National Security Council.
The White House initiated a review of the alleged offer immediately after Mr. Sestak made the allegation and has had the information prepared for some time. But it delayed the release until after the primary to avoid meddling with the political narrative, the source said.
Republicans, chiefly Rep. Darrell Issa of California, have called for a special prosecutor from the Department of Justice to look into the matter. But Mr. Bauer's memo said there is no impropriety.
"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," Mr. Bauer wrote.
"Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements."
The source said the White House reached out to both Clinton and Sestak advisers this week and presented the narrative, which both confirmed as correct to the best of their recollections.
At a news conference Thursday, Mr. Obama was asked about the offer and promised a detailed response later, adding, "I can assure the public that nothing improper took place."
In a statement, Mr. Sestak confirmed the White House's account and said he took a single phone call from Mr. Clinton last summer mentioning an executive board appointment.
"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," Mr. Sestak said in the statement. "The former president said he knew I'd say that, and the conversation moved on to other subjects."
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