For the third time in as many weeks, the White House is still not confirming or denying the claim made by Rep. Joseph Sestak (D-PA) that he was offered a “high-ranking” Administration position if he would abandon his challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania’s May primary.
During the regular briefing for reporters at the White House yesterday, Major Garrett of Fox News asked what is fast becoming a staple of the sessions. So familiar is the question of an official bribe of the congressman that Garrett, in fact, did not have to give any background and only cited the question of “Sestak issue” to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
“On the Sestak issue” Garrett asked Gibbs, “Arlen Specter said on another — this afternoon that Sestak and his opinion on this allegation that he was offered a job not to run against Specter, needs to prove it, needs to back it up, and claims that Sestak’s accusation is hurting the White House, damaging its reputation. You told us a couple of times you’d check back on this. Can you give us an update, number one?”
“I don’t have the update with me,” Gibbs replied, using a mantra now familiar with the reporters who have been covering the Sestak controversy, “But let me check and see if I do have anything.”
“Do you have any evaluation of Senator Specter’s comments on this?” was Garrett’s follow-up question.
“No, I don’t,” was all Gibbs would say.
Gibbs was first questioned on February 22nd about Sestak’s “yes’ reply to a television interviewer who had asked whether he was offered a high-ranking position to get out of the primary against Specter. When ABC-TV’s White House correspondent Jake Tapper brought it up, the President’s top spokeman told him: “I was travelling for a couple of days, as you know. I have seen some stuff on that, but I haven’t looked into this.”
Garrett later cited published reports that unnamed White House denied Sestak’s charge and asked Gibbs: “When you said ‘I haven’t looked into this,’ I want to make sure you’re not contradicting that denial.” Gibbs repeated his earlier remark that “because I was on the road and dealing with different things on the road, I’ve not had a chance to delve into this.”
Gibbs also promised Garrett he would have “somebody looked into this.”
In the next few days, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told me that no one in the office of the Secretary of Defense knew anything about a discussion with Sestak and the congressman’s press secretary told me his boss stood by his story.
One week later (March 1st), Gibbs still had no answer. When I quoted Gibbs’ earlier exchange with Tapper and Garrett and asked if he had “looked into this,” he told me: “I have not made any progress on that.”
When I asked the White House press secretary if he would check on this, Gibbs said: “Yes. I was remiss on this and I apologize.”
Apparently, to use an old line, sorry isn’t good enough for the Obama White House and its top spokesman.
Gibbs Also Responds to “Culture of Corruption” Stories in New York Times, Washington Post
On the same day that Gibbs was responding to further queries on Rep. Sestak’s claim, I cited front page stories in both the New York Times (March 5th) and the Washington Post March 6th that recent scandals involving Democratic office-holders were fueling the Republican charge of a “culture of corruption.”
“Now It’s Democrats Who Feel Sting of Scandal,” blared the Times story on March 5th. “Democrats’ Ethical Lapses Could Imperil Hold on Power,” echoed Page One of the Post March 6th.
“Is this something the President is concerned about or has discussed in any way related to the midterm elections?” I asked Gibbs. “This relates — this has been a hallmark of and an issue that the President has worked on, as I said I think last week, as a state senator, as a United States senator, and as President,” Gibbs replied.
“So I don’t — the President doesn’t work on ethics reform because it may or may not be a strategy for the midterm elections,” he added. “The President has believed since coming to elected office in Illinois that, as I said here, that rules are in place for a reason; that everyone must follow those rules regardless of who you are or what your name is; and that if those rules are breached or broken, that each of those — each person that breaks those rules can and should be dealt with by whatever respective body they belong to — whether it’s a governor or whether it’s a member of the House or the Senate. This is, again, an issue that the President has taken seriously for a long, long time.”
Put another way, it would seem that the top Administration spokesman was putting some distance between the President and fellow Democratic office-holders such as New York Gov. David Paterson and Rep. Charles Rangel.