House Republicans continue to demand that President Obama “come clean” about contacts on his behalf with candidates in Democratic primary races despite the facts that White House officials have already answered exhaustive questioning on the subject, and even a former top Bush administration lawyer finds little to indicate real scandal.
House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio Thursday signaled his support for efforts of several other GOP colleagues to keep the issue alive, in which Obama has come under fire for apparent attempts to dissuade Democrats from challenging incumbent senators in Pennsylvania and Colorado.
Bill Clinton approached Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennslvania, on behalf of the current president, to try to talk him out of challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in that state’s Democratic primary. Clinton mentioned that Sestak, a former Navy admiral, could have an unpaid position on a federal advisory board. Sestak declined the offer, and went on to beat Specter, a longtime Republican who switched to the Democratic Party just last year.
Separately, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina spoke with Andrew Romanoff, a Colorado Democrat challenging appointed Sen. Michael Bennet in an apparent attempt to talk Romanoff into dropping his challenge to Bennet. Obama supports Bennet’s candidacy.
White House Counsel Robert Bauer released a memorandum on the Sestak contacts, and White House officials have spoken at length about the Romanoff situation. Indeed, in the Romanoff case, it was Romanoff who first applied for a job with the Obama administration before jumping into his bid to oust Bennet. Still, Republican Reps. Darrell Issa of California, Lamar Smith of Texas, and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin are demanding even more from Bauer.
“Two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate have now come forward to reveal that the White House initiated discussions of government jobs in order to facilitate their withdrawal from their respective races and boost the prospects of President Obama’s favored candidates,” Boehner says. “Only after these candidates spoke out did the White House address the allegations, and in the case of Rep. Sestak, it took months to do so. The White House has unsurprisingly acquitted itself of any wrongdoing while leaving behind far more questions than answers.
“The fastest way for the American people to get the answers they deserve about this troubling pattern of conduct is for the White House to come clean and fully disclose its use of federal appointments to manipulate elections,” Boehner adds. “If President Obama is serious about keeping his commitment to ‘creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,’ he should direct his administration to release any and all relevant information so that the American people can know exactly what happened on his watch. Americans deserve better than a White House that seeks the public trust with promises of openness and then exploits that trust for political gain.”
‘Not A Violation’
Despite such partisan protests, the top ethics attorney in the Bush administration sees little to nothing that Obama or his officials have done wrong in the matter.
In an interview Thursday with NPR, Richard Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush declared flatly, “I don’t think it’s illegal,” regarding the contacts with Sestak and Romanoff.
“With respect to ethics, I feel strongly that the administration should not intervene in primary elections if this denies the voters the choice the voters ought to have. But that being said, this is not a violation of government ethics regulations, and it’s not a violation of federal law for them to do this,” Painter adds.
Fuirther, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs Thursday answered several questions from reporters, including whether there exist other cases that have not yet come to light involving attempts to influence Democratic primary races. “Not that I’m aware of,” was Gibbs’ reply.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.