One week ago, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs spoke to reporters on Air Force One as President Obama flew to Chicago after visiting the Gulf Coast to survey the oil spill response. The very first question Gibbs faced was what the president thought of attempts by top aides to lure Democrat Joe Sestak out of the Senate primary in Pennsylvania.
The administration had acknowledged earlier in the day, for the first time, that top aides to Obama did in fact offer Sestak a position – they claimed it was an unpaid advisory board spot – in a memo released minutes after the president landed in New Orleans.
“I’ve just been dealing with oil today,” Gibbs dodged. He then promised: “I will go talk to him about this after this.”
Thursday, however, Gibbs said that he had, in fact, not done so. Questioned once again by reporters about the Sestak affair, Gibbs said that he, one of Obama’s closest advisers, has yet to talk to the president about the matter.
“I have not talked to him about Sestak,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs also said he had not discussed with Obama the news that top White House officials also dangled high-paying government jobs in front of Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff, in a second unsuccessful attempt to clear a challenge to an incumbent Democratic senator.
“I haven’t talked to [Obama] about it today,” said Gibbs, who had put out a formal statement to the press at 6:25 a.m. confirming that White House officials did make overtures to Romanoff.
Gibbs did say that Obama “wasn’t aware” of the actions of his top aides. Obama has been briefed recently on the matter, since he said last Thursday at a press conference that he could “assure the public that nothing improper took place.”
Though Gibbs is a close confidante of Obama’s, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was the first to man the briefing room podium for President George W. Bush, said it is not surprising that Gibbs may have avoided speaking to the president about the Sestak and Romanoff matters.
“That’s exactly what White Houses and press secretaries do when you either don’t want to know the answer or you want to shield the president for as long as possible from getting mired in the muck. The problem is that it is a temporary solution and it won’t hold up over time,” Fleischer said in an interview.
“It’s inevitable over time that someone will ask a question directly of the president in an interview,” he said. “What the White House is hoping for is that it will come up at a time when there is a lot less focus and heat so they can fade the issue.”
Another Bush administration official said that White House lawyers might have “suggested” that Gibbs not speak with Obama about the issues, “or requested that he not.”