White House: Romanoff sought administration job months before entering Colorado Senate race

By Chris Cillizza and Debbi Wilgoren
Thursday, June 3, 2010; 10:02 AM

The White House confirmed Thursday that it contacted Colorado politician Andrew Romanoff to gauge his interest in an administration job last fall as Romanoff was preparing to launch a Senate bid, but also said Romanoff had sought a job with the Obama government months earlier.

The White House said Romanoff applied for a job at the U.S. Agency for International Development during the post-election transition process, and "followed up by phone with White House personnel" once the new administration was underway.

Nine months later, deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina called and e-mailed Romanoff, according to the White House, because administration officials had heard he was entering the Democratic primary race for a Colorado Senate seat. Obama had already endorsed incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet in the Colorado race, the statement said, and "Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters."

"But Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the Administration, and that ended the discussion," the statement by press secretary Robert Gibbs continued. "As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job."

Romanoff, a former speaker of the House in Colorado, did not mention his original application to join USAID when he offered his version of the discussions late Wednesday night. Romanoff said he received a call from Messina, who as Romanoff prepared to announce that he would challenge Bennet in Colorado's Senate Democratic primary.

Messina made it clear that the administration would support Bennet in the August primary. 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."

Romanoff 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 prior to Thursday, 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."

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