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Published: Wednesday, 6/9/2010

Is it Sestak-gate?

THE White House and Rep. Joe Sestak agree: Mr. Sestak, Pennsylvania's Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, is a buffoon.

For months, the White House stonewalled inquiries about whether Mr. Sestak had been offered a federal job in exchange for dropping his challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary. Last month, White House Counsel Robert Bauer issued a statement that said former President Bill Clinton was asked to raise with Mr. Sestak options for service on a presidential or other senior advisory level.

By stressing the offer was made by Mr. Clinton, and was for a unpaid job, Mr. Bauer's statement seemed contrived to get around making it a felony to offer a government job as a quid pro quo for a political favor.

But in a statement he issued, Mr. Sestak said it was so. The implication is that Mr. Sestak was grossly exaggerating when he said he'd been offered a high-level job to drop out of the race, and that he'd distorted the truth to puff up his own importance. It also makes him out to be a chump.

Mr. Sestak won the Pennsylvania primary in part because his reputation for candor (apparently undeserved) contrasted favorably with Mr. Specter's blatant careerism. But if Mr. Sestak wasn't lying in February, he is lying now.

By releasing its statement at the start of the Memorial Day weekend, the Obama Administration hoped this issue would fade away.

Former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff admitted last week that he'd been offered three jobs if he would drop his primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet. Still, many journalists would like this issue to go away because Mr. Obama is a Democrat, and because they regard the offense as venial.

As Richard Nixon could have told Mr. Obama, it isn't the crime that does you in. It's the coverup.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact jkelly@post-gazette.com

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