Updated: June 3, 7:05 a.m.
The Colorado Democrat who is trying to oust incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet in that state’s hotly contested primary has confirmed that a top White House official effectively dangled three administration posts in an attempt to deter him from seeking the seat.
In a statement released late Wednesday, Andrew Romanoff said he received a call in September 2009 from Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina informing him that the White House would support Bennet. Romanoff said Messina “suggested three positions that might be available to [him] were [he] not pursuing the Senate race.”
Early Thursday morning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement on the matter, insisting that Messina never offered Romanoff a job. The White House said Messina did speak to Romanoff last September to see if the Colorado Democrat was still interested in a position at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which Romanoff had applied for during the presidential transition, or if he was in fact running for Senate. Obama, the White House said, had already endorsed Bennet for Senate 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,” the White House said.
Romanoff, a former Speaker of the Colorado House, echoed the White House recollection of events, insisting that he was not promised a job and that Messina emphasized he could not guarantee a position in the administration. He said he received an e-mail from Messina later that day outlining the positions: deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean for USAID, director of the Office of Democracy and Governance for USAID, and director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. Romanoff said that he left Messina a voice mail message confirming he still planned to mount a Senate campaign and that he has not spoken with Messina since.
Romanoff said he had declined to comment on the topic because he did not want “to politicize this matter,” but he now was inclined to dispel what he characterized as rampant misinformation surrounding the issue.
On Wednesday night, Trevor Kincaid, a campaign spokesman for Bennet, said, “Speaker Romanoff’s statement and the earlier statements by the White House seem to speak for themselves. Michael is going to keep focusing on solutions for Colorado, like creating jobs, improving education, cracking down on Wall Street and fixing a broken Washington.”
The Colorado flap comes just days after the White House admitted to using former President Bill Clinton as a go-between to raise the possibility with Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) that he could snag an unpaid presidential advisory post if he did not challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter.
Republicans who have fumed over the Pennsylvania situation have seized on the circumstances surrounding Colorado to argue that the two cases are indicative of a deeper pattern at the White House that they suggest includes improper and possibly illegal behavior.
The revelation in the Colorado race “represents a troubling pattern of the same Chicago-style scratch my back’ politics that Barack Obama routinely condemns,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement late Wednesday.
He added, “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.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, the Oversight and Government Reform ranking Republican, also called for an independent investigation.
“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,” the California Congressman said in a statement.
Issa, who has been the most outspoken GOP lawmaker on the Sestak issue, co-authored a letter to White House counsel Robert Bauer earlier Wednesday. It called on him to turn over an array of documents, e-mails and phone records pertaining to the counsel’s internal probe of the matter.
Jennifer Bendery contributed to this story.
The full White House statement follows:
“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.”