On his CNN program on Monday, John King pressed both Obama senior advisor David Axelrod and Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak on the latter's allegation that he was offered a job by the White House in exchange for getting out of the Pennsylvania Senate primary against Arlen Specter. Even though King pushed for an answer, Axelrod denied any wrongdoing on the White House's part and Sestak refused to explain further [audio available here; video below the jump].
The CNN anchor raised the controversy with Sestak 16 minutes into the 7 pm Eastern hour. Though King was late in pressing Sestak on the issue, given the politician made the allegation against the Obama White House in February, he tried hard to get the Pennsylvania Democrat to divulge further information. The congressman went beyond filibustering, rephrasing his vague answer and even trying to change the subject:
KING: Congressman, I want to clear up, once and for all, a controversy that has dogged you a little bit. You said some time ago that when Arlen Specter was still in the race- early in the primary- somebody at the White House came to you and said, I will offer you a job- will give you some kind of a job if you would get out. I talked to David Axelrod earlier today. He said White House lawyers have assured them that all these conversations were appropriate. What specifically did they offer you, sir?
SESTAK: Well, I was actually asked by a reporter something that- a few months ago, that had happened almost eight months earlier.
SESTAK: And I answered it honestly (unintelligble)-
KING: You answered it honestly, and you said they offered you a job.
SESTAK: I said- and I did answer it honestly, and said yes, because I felt, as you asked me about my naval experience, that I have a personal accountability- I should have for my role in a matter, which I talked about. Beyond that, I'll let others talk about their roles. Beyond that, I have-
KING: Sir, I need to ask you about this. I need to ask you about this. You mentioned your military experience and you cast yourself- and I don't question- as a man of great integrity. The American people, as you know, don't trust politicians. They don't trust this town. If somebody was playing politics as usual, or possibly, breaking the law, sir, in trying to induce you to leave a political campaign with a federal appointment, that could possibly be breaking the law. We're trying to get just the basics of who said what and offered what?
SESTAK: Yes, sir, and I'll let others speak for themselves and (unintelligible)-
KING: You're the only one who knows, sir. You're-
KING: There's you and someone at the White House involved in these conversations. You're one of the parties who knows.
SESTAK: Someone, as I said, was asked. I answered the question, and I did forthrightly for my personal accountability in that matter. But if others-
KING: So what is the harm- what is the harm of you saying this is the person who called me and this is what they offered me so that we can go to that person and get the other end of the conversation?
SESTAK: I'll tell you what the harm actually appears to be. You and I should be talking right now about how people were slammed in this economy, John, and that's all that I-
KING: I would love to talk about those things, sir. We have talked about them in the past and I hope we will talk about them in the future of this campaign. And we have talked about them in the past, but this is a question about the public trust in institutions. You want to move to the United States Senate. You want to put your hand on a bible and take an oath. When people look at this town, they don't like the shenanigans, and I'm simply asking you, who offered you a job to say get out of the race?
SESTAK: Yes, sir, and I've said all I'm going to say on the matter, and I have great respect for you, but others need to explain whatever their role might be. I did explain, with integrity, my role, and- but thank you very much.
KING: All right, Congressman, we'll keep trying to get that answer.
SESTAK: It's always-
KING: If you change your mind, we'll be here to take your phone call- I promise you.
SESTAK: Yes sir, and I'm sorry to rush. I have a vote- literally time just ran [out], but they give an extra minute. And John, thank you very much.
Earlier, the anchor interviewed Axelrod during the first full segment of his program. He raised the issue of Sestak's allegation near the end of the segment: "Sestak says, early on, he was offered a job in the administration to get out of that race. Robert Gibbs...said lawyers in the White House and others have looked into conversations that were had with...Sestak, and nothing inappropriate happened. But the White House has refused to say what happened. If nothing inappropriate happened, then what appropriate happened?"
The White House senior advisor stuck by the official White House position, and added that he wasn't a participant in any of the conversations:
AXELROD: Well look John, I didn't have any conversations with Congressman Sestak and I didn't have any conversations with anybody connected with Congressman Sestak. So all I can tell you is what Robert told you- you know, these allegations were made, they were looked into, and they were found unwarranted-
KING: But David- David, forgive me for interrupting, but candidate Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration in history-
AXELROD: And he's delivering that as well.
KING: If these conversations did happen, it marches up into the gray area, perhaps into the red area, of a felony. It is a felony to induce somebody by offering them a job.
AXELROD: Well, certainly.
KING: So why won't the White House just say here-
KING: Either Congressman Sestak is lying, or somebody had some conversation with him about a job.
AXELROD: Well, John, you're absolutely right. If such things happened, they would constitute- they would constitute a serious breach of the law, and that's why when the allegations were made, they were looked into, and there is- there was no evidence of such a thing....
KING: You cannot say what the conversations were? If this has been looked into by White House lawyers-
AXELROD: I was not a party to the conversations. So no, I can't say that.
KING: And you haven't been briefed on what the lawyers told Robert Gibbs?
AXELROD: All I know is- well, I've been briefed, as Robert has, that they looked into it and their conclusion was that it was perfectly- the conversations were perfectly appropriate.
KING: So then why can't we understand what those conversations were? We're talking in circles here because- (unintelligible) can somebody say- well, this guy talked to-
AXELROD: Well- we're not- we're only talking in circles because I wasn't a part of those conversations, so I can't relate to you what the conversations were.
KING: Can you make available the people who had the conversations?
AXELROD: I'm sure that all of this will be- you know, I don't think any questions will be left unanswered on this.