Administration officials used job to try to dissuade Senate hopeful in Colorado

By Chris Cillizza
Thursday, June 3, 2010

Former Colorado House speaker Andrew Romanoff released a detailed explanation Wednesday night of his contacts with the White House last fall, when a top aide to President Obama sought to persuade him to give up a primary race against Sen. Michael Bennet.

In a statement, Romanoff said he received a call last September from Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief of staff. The call came as Romanoff prepared to announce that he would challenge Bennet in the state's Senate Democratic primary.

Messina made it clear that the administration would support Bennet in the August primary, Romanoff said. Gov. Bill Ritter (D) appointed Bennet to the Senate last year after Ken Salazar resigned to become interior secretary.

"Mr. Messina also suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race. He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions. At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina's assistance in obtaining one."

The Colorado politician attached to his statement an e-mail from Messina that outlined three jobs: the U.S. Agency for International Development's deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean; director of USAID's Office of Democracy and Governance; and director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

He said he declined the potential job offers in a follow-up phone message.

Romanoff's statement comes less than two weeks after questions about what job, if any, the White House offered to Rep. Joe Sestak in hopes of driving him from a Democratic primary race in Pennsylvania against Sen. Arlen Specter.

The White House ultimately released a report from counsel Bob Bauer that revealed that former president Bill Clinton had approached Sestak about leaving the race but concluded that the administration never formally contacted the candidate.

That the White House made clear its support of Bennet in the primary is not particularly shocking. Administrations of both parties play favorites in primaries and do their best to clear the field for the candidate they believe is positioned to win a general election.

But Romanoff's statement raises questions about whether the White House accurately described its conversations with him, and whether dangling three potential positions is tantamount to a job offer.

The Denver Post first reported last September about a possible job offer to Romanoff and quoted a White House spokesman as saying, "Mr. Romanoff was never offered a position within the administration."

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has led the charge against the White House on the Sestak and Romanoff matters, condemned the administration in the wake of Romanoff's statement, asking, "How deep does the Obama White House's effort to invoke Chicago-style politics for the purpose of manipulating elections really go?"

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said, "It is clear that the Obama administration is not capable of living up to the same standards they campaigned on, and an independent investigation is necessary to learn all the facts."

The White House did not immediately respond to Romanoff's statement.

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