Sestak affair will not go quietly

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If the Obama White House believes the controversy surrounding the administration’s engagement with Congressman Joe Sestak, D-Pa., will “go gently into that goodnight,” they are sorely mistaken. The more we Americans learn of the affair, the more questions we have.

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In February of this year, cable talk-show host Larry Kane asked Sestak if the Obama administration had offered him a job if he would abandon his primary campaign against Sen. Arlen Specter. The story had apparently been floating around the Washington press corps for many months, yet no one had bothered to ask Sestak if it were true. Sestak responded, “Yes.” Kane followed up by asking if the job was “big.” To this question, Sestak also responded, “Yes.”

Fifteen hours later White House officials responded that the story was untrue. According to the administration, Sestak was a liar! The administration continued its denial throughout the primary election, which Sestak won.

Alas, the rather vociferous denial by the administration spokespersons is contradicted by their most recent response. A long three months after the initial allegations were made, the administration released a memo outlining an alleged conversation that Sestak had with former President Bill Clinton. According to the memo, Clinton was to determine if Sestak was serious about making a run for the Senate and talked to him about taking a non-paying position on a presidential commission instead. This most recent response begs the question: Was the administration lying then? Or is it lying now?

Politicians are notorious for the size of their egos. Frankly, the idea that Sestak would forgo the chance to become a senator in order to sit on some ambiguous commission stretches the limits of credulity. Moreover, it doesn’t jibe with Sestak’s description of an offer of a “high ranking,” “big,” “job.”

Apologists for the administration excuse the shenanigans as political business-as-usual. “Everyone does it,” they say. But Barak Obama was the president that was going to “fix the broken machinery of government.” This presidency was going to be the harbinger of a new era of ethical and transparent government. For an administration that was going to calm the oceans and heal the sick, behaving ethically should be a snap. At the very least, such an administration ought to be able to get its story straight.

There is also something troubling about Sestak’s rather sparse response. Following release of the White House memo, Sestak released a memo of his own. Sestak stated that he had indeed been contacted by the former president and that the subject of a possible appointment to a presidential board was broached. Sestak continued that he responded, “No.” That’s it. No more details. The entire episode was rather benign and, in Sestak’s words, “nothing unusual.”

Cynics are indeed wondering what quid pro quo Sestak now accepted that he seems to be playing ball with the administration.

The congressman can’t have it both ways; he is either a man alone—a cowboy staring unflinchingly into the eyes of the powers that be—or he is a lying opportunist in the same mold as the senator whose seat aspires to take.

If there was nothing untoward in the former president’s offer, why—when queried by Kane and the rest of the press—didn’t Sestak simply say: “A surrogate from the White House inquired about my commitment to running for the Senate. The president’s surrogate also suggested that I might be a good fit for this hokey commission that meets in the basement of the East Wing from time to time.” The answer can only be that in order to separate himself from the two-faced Arlen Specter, it was to his advantage to appear to be a valiant man of the people, whose honor, (to say nothing of his ambition), could not be purchased at any price.

But once the “powers that be” begin campaigning for Sestak, won’t that give the lie to his maverick persona? Once it becomes clear that Sestak was role playing, why would anyone except the most partisan vote for him?

Additionally, the administration clearly lied for three months and may be lying still. If Sestak proves to be the individualist he claimed to be, then someone in the administration broke the law. Shouldn’t we find out who that someone is? And shouldn’t that person then be prosecuted?

The answers are not good for this administration, which suggests, of course, that they are good for Americans.

(Joseph C. Phillips is author of “He Talk Like a White Boy” available where ever books are sold.)

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