WASHINGTON -- Forced to disclose backstage political bargaining, President Barack Obama's embarrassed White House acknowledged Friday that it had enlisted Bill Clinton to try to ease Rep. Joe Sestak out of Pennsylvania's Senate primary with a job offer.
Nothing wrong with that, the White House said. Oh, yes, there was, Republicans countered.
The administration admission -- it said Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had asked the former president to call Sestak -- left many questions unanswered, and it seemed unlikely the issue had been put to rest. For Obama, the revelations called into question his repeated promises to run an open government that was above back room deals. And for Sestak, they raised questions why he ever brought up the offer -- a 60-second conversation, he said Friday -- in the first place.
"I wasn't interested, and that was the bottom line," Sestak said Friday.
Seeking to quiet the clamor over a possible political trade, the White House released a report describing the offer that was intended to clear a path for Sen. Arlen Specter to win the Democratic nomination. Sestak stayed in the race and defeated Specter to become the Democratic nominee, ending Specter's 30-year Senate tenure.
Sestak said he cut Clinton short after hearing only a few words about a possible post on a presidential board and said the former president dropped the subject during a phone call.
White House Counsel Robert Bauer, in a two-page report, said there was no improper conduct in the offer. No one in the administration discussed the offer with Sestak, Bauer said. The report did not say what, if any, contacts or promises the White House had with Specter on the matter. It also did not reveal whether Obama was aware of Clinton's role.
The report didn't impress Republicans. Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House oversight committee who unsuccessfully had sought a Department of Justice investigation, said Obama had become a part of the Washington culture he decried.
"It's pretty clear from the White House statement that they intended to get him out of the race by offering him a position, and that's illegal and it's unethical," Issa said just moments after Sestak spoke.
Specter declined to comment. Clinton, campaigning in Little Rock, Ark., for Sen. Blanche Lincoln's re-election bid, ignored questions.
Emanuel and Sestak both worked in the White House when Clinton was president in the 1990s, and both remain close with their former boss.
Bauer, in the White House report, argued that previous Democratic and Republican administrations, "motivated by the same goals, discussed alternative paths to service for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office." The report said such actions aren't illegal nor unethical.