Democratic Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado, said late Wednesday that deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina said he could be given one of three high-ranking federal jobs if he gave up his candidacy.
Romanoff said he was told by Messina that two high-ranking positions at USAID and the director’s position at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency “might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race.”
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency director’s position would have been a post in charge of a $55 million budget and a staff of 78 people, which requires Senate confirmation.
It is now the second confirmed Senate race in which the Obama administration has tried to lure challengers to Democratic incumbents out of their races with offers or potential government jobs, flirting with ethical and possibly even legal violations that have besmirched a president who based much of his candidacy on changing the way Washington operates.
Romanoff’s bombshell comes days after White House counsel Bob Bauer confirmed last Friday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel went through former President Bill Clinton in an attempt to move Rep. Joe Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary.
Bauer and Sestak have said that the congressman was offered only a slot on a presidential advisory board, which would likely have not broken the law, but the official account has been plagued by questions and inconsistencies that have fueled suspicions that Sestak was offered a more weighty position such as Secretary of the Navy.
And in fact, the Romanoff revelation amplified questions about the credibility of the White House account of what they offered Sestak.
“It’s difficult to imagine that the Obama White House offered multiple paid positions to a former state legislator in Mr. Romanoff, but simply offered an unpaid, advisory board position to Joe Sestak, a sitting United States Congressman,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican whose persistence has played a big part in keeping the Sestak story alive, renewed calls for an outside investigation by the FBI or a special prosecutor.
“This White House has lost all credibility and the American people can no longer rely on the word of the White House when it tried to deflect and deny allegations of questionable and potentially illegal conduct,” Issa said.
“These incidents underscore the need for some independent agent, whether it is a special prosecutor or the FBI, to launch an investigation and determine once and for all the extent of the White House’s efforts to manipulate elections and if those actions resulted in the violations of any laws,” he said.
Sestak first admitted back in February that he was offered some kind of position in the administration, answering “yes” when asked if it was a “high-ranking” post. His win in the May 18 primary over incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, however, fueled the story and gave it oxygen to the point where the White House was forced to come forward with information.
That led to renewed questions of Romanoff, who was first reported by the Denver Post back in September to have received offers from Messina. At the time a White House spokesman said that “Mr. Romanoff was never offered a position within the administration.”
Romanoff, the former state House speaker in Colorado, sent a statement Wednesday to reporters and attached the e-mail that Messina sent him last September.
Messina, Romanoff said, called him “shortly after” news media reported his candidacy last September and told him President Obama would be supporting Bennet.
The three positions Romanoff said Messina could be his were: Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America and Caribbean, USAID; Director, Office of Democracy and Governance, USAID; and Director, U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA).
Romanoff said that Messina “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.”
“Later that day, I received an email from Mr. Messina containing descriptions of three positions (email attached). I left him a voicemail informing him that I would not change course,” said Romanoff’s statement.
See below for the full text of Romanoff’s statement and the full text of Messina’s e-mail to Romanoff:
Today, U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff issued the following statement:
I have received a large number of press inquiries concerning the role the White House is reported to have played in my decision to run for the U.S. Senate. I have declined comment because I did not want – and do not want – to politicize this matter.
A great deal of misinformation has filled the void in the meantime. That does not serve the public interest or any useful purpose.
Here are the facts:
In September 2009, shortly after the news media first reported my plans to run for the Senate, I received a call from Jim Messina, the President’s deputy chief of staff. Mr. Messina informed me that the White House would support Sen. Bennet. I informed Mr. Messina that I had made my decision to run.
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.
Later that day, I received an email from Mr. Messina containing descriptions of three positions (email attached). I left him a voicemail informing him that I would not change course.
I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then.
Full text of e-mail from deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina to Andrew Romanoff:
From: Messina, Jim (e-mail address redacted)
Date: Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 3:24 PM
To: Romanoff, Andrew (e-mail address redacted)
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America and Caribbean, USAID
As one of five geographic bureaus in the Agency and as a major contributor to the broader U.S. foreign policy objectives in the region, the Bureau for Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) promotes stable democracies, prosperous economies, secure borders, and cooperative neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. The LAC Bureau is taking a proactive approach to maximizing the impact of foreign assistance and continuing its efforts to transform and improve business operations that support Agency-wide reforms. In line with the new Foreign Assistance Framework, priorities include consolidating democracy, fostering growth through free trade and business opportunities, investing in people through education and health, and enhancing security by promoting alternatives to illegal drug cultivation. Additionally, the Bureau is implementing a number of highly visible programs in the Western Hemisphere, including support for the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA); the Andean Counter-Narcotics Initiative; the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and the recommendations for the Presidential commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.
This position reports to the Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean. The position functions as advisor to the Assistant Administrator, LAC. The position is responsible for oversight and general management of one or more LAC Bureau offices.
Director, Office of Democracy and Governance, USAID
The Director is the chief operations officer of the Office and a principal advisor to senior Bureau and USAID management in defining the scope and objectives of the Agency’s and the Administration’s initiatives to support democracy and foster good governance. Activities of the Director include oversight for all staffing and personnel functions in the Office, as well as oversight of technical officer recruitment, selection, and placement, and direct supervision of the senior democracy and governance advisors for the Agency. The Director provides program definition, design and oversight, and evaluation for USAID’s democracy and good governance programs and serves as a senior advisor in the administration for developing democracy and good governance program strategies. The Director supports democracy and good governance programs in all parts of the Agency and leads in the development of strategic approaches to democracy support and good governance. The Director represents the Agency at the senior level with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, with senior officials of foreign governments, with senior political officials from host countries, and with senior officials of U.S. implementing organizations. This position reports to the Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Human Rights (DCHA).
Director, U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA)
USTDA was first created as part of USAID through the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and made independent in 1991. Their stated mission is to “advance economic development and U.S. commercial interests in developing and middle-income countries.” Unlike Ex-Im , OPIC and other international development agencies, USTDA does not directly finance exports and development. Instead, the agency seeks to achieve its mission by making small grants to fund feasibility studies, reverse trade missions, conferences, trainings, and other technical assistance programs that link U.S. companies to overseas development projects. With a budget of $55.2 million (FY 2010) and a staff of 78 professionals (48 full-time, 25 contractors and 5 foreign-service nationals), USTDA’s success is dependent on being able to seek out new opportunities, leverage its private and government relationships, and find development opportunities for both private business and larger federal foreign assistance/development agencies. A testament of USTDA’s success is its ratio of grant dollars spent versus dollars in exports created, which is nearly 1:35. This position requires Senate confirmation.