President Barack Obama did not know that a top White House aide dangled three administration jobs in front of former Colorado state Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) last year to try to dissuade him from a primary challenge against Sen. Michael Bennet, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday.
Obama “wasn’t aware” that Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina e-mailed Romanoff last September about possible job opportunities at two agencies — the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency — as an alternative to challenging Bennet, a White House ally, Gibbs said.
The Romanoff jobs flap comes just days after the White House admitted to leaning on former President Bill Clinton to talk to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) about possibly taking a unpaid presidential advisory post in exchange for not challenging Sen. Arlen Specter in his primary. Sestak stayed in the race and toppled Specter in that contest last month.
Republicans have seized on both instances and alleged that they are proof of a deeper pattern tied to improper and possibly illegal behavior — something the White House continues to deny.
“Let’s be clear: There wasn’t a job offer. There wasn’t a job promised. Mr. Romanoff applied for a job in government service during the transition. I think that’s — that’s the fact pattern,” Gibbs said.
The White House spokesman justified the actions taken to keep incumbent Democratic Senators in their seats; he said the president’s role as the leader of the party means that he “has an interest in ensuring that supporters don’t run against each other in contested primaries.”
Asked whether the job offers fly in the face of Obama’s vow to run the most transparent administration in history, he said, “I do believe we’ve been transparent.”
Gibbs said he was not aware of any other efforts by White House officials to discourage other Democrats from running in primaries.