White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday morning — in an e-mail to reporters at 6:25 a.m. — that Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff had applied for a job at USAID prior to being contacted by a top administration official to see if he was still interested in the job.
It is the second time in a week that the White House has been forced to respond to news reports and statements by Democratic politicians that they tried to cut back room political deals.
But unlike last Friday’s carefully coordinated release of a memo from the White House Counsel’s office followed by a statement from Rep. Joe Sestak about what post he was offered to stay out of the race in Pennsylvania, the administration comment about the Romanoff affair was hurried and did not appear coordinated with Romanoff or his campaign.
Sestak, of course, is now the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania since the primary has been held, so he has more incentive to work with the White House, while Romanoff remains a challenger to incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Gibbs’ short statement (full text below) justified the administration’s actions with the same rationale as in the Sestak incident, by saying that they were trying to move Romanoff out of a challenge to Bennet “to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.”
Gibbs said that Romanoff had applied online for a job as USAID and had also called the administration to follow up about it. Obama’s top spokesman framed the call by deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina as nothing more than inquiry into whether press reports of Romanoff’s candidacy were true.
“Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said that “as Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.”
But that is true only as a technical and legal matter. Romanoff’s statement late Wednesday said that Messina mentioned three jobs “that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race.”
In addition, while two of the jobs were at USAID, the third was the director’s position at an independent agency, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, which has a $55 million annual budget.
Here is the full Gibbs statement as released by the White House:
STATEMENT FROM THE PRESS SECRETARY ON COLORADO SENATE RACE
Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process. After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel.
Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, 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. As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.