U.S. Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff said publicly for the first time Wednesday that a White House deputy discussed three specific jobs that “might be available” if Romanoff dropped a primary challenge to a fellow Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet.
Romanoff, responding to increased pressure from national media and Republicans attacking the Obama White House, released an e-mail sent to him Sept. 11, 2009, by administration deputy chief of staff Jim Messina describing two possible jobs with the U.S. Agency for International Development, affiliated with the State Department, and one with the U.S. Trade Development Agency.
In a phone call last September, just before Romanoff publicly announced a challenge for Bennet’s seat, Messina
“suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race. He added that he could not guarantee my appointment to any of these positions. At no time was I promised a job, nor did I request Mr. Messina’s assistance in obtaining one,” Romanoff’s statement said.
After getting the e-mail with the job descriptions, Romanoff said, “I left him a voice mail informing him that I would not change course. I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then.”
At the time of the discussions with Messina, it had been widely reported that Romanoff would run against Bennet. Romanoff filed his paperwork to seek the seat on Sept. 10. While declining to confirm accounts of job discussions with Romanoff, the White House has maintained since last fall that no job was ever offered, a point Romanoff acknowledged.
Chased after jobs
Some Colorado Democrats said Romanoff’s account ignores the fact the former Colorado House speaker had been seeking jobs at the same agency, elsewhere in the Obama administration, and in Denver for much of 2009.
One Colorado Democratic leader said Romanoff had encouraged people to show his résumé to the
State Department and USAID specifically, earlier in 2009.
Romanoff frustrated many state Democratic leaders with half-hearted pursuits of public and private jobs while still flirting, over their objections, with a primary challenge of Bennet. Romanoff was also considered for the vacant Colorado secretary of state position in late 2009, and to be Gov. Bill Ritter’s lieutenant governor if Barbara O’Brien stepped down.
Romanoff wanted the Senate appointment that became available when Obama tapped Ken Salazar for interior secretary. In early January 2009, Ritter surprised many in the political world by tapping Denver Public Schools Superintendent Bennet instead.
“A lot of people were trying to help Andrew, both in Colorado and nationally,” said Ritter chief of staff Jim Carpenter. Romanoff had many talents to bring to the Obama administration or other jobs, and many Colorado Democrats were pursuing work at high-profile agencies, Carpenter said.
The Denver Post first wrote about Romanoff’s job contacts with Messina in September 2009. Few national media outlets were interested in the story until Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak made a similar accusation over his Democratic primary battle with Sen. Arlen Specter. Sestak said the White House offered him positions to avoid a primary fight with the favorite, Specter, but that he refused.
White House under fire
Sestak won the primary. Last week, the White House released results of an internal inquiry into Sestak’s comments, acknowledging that former President Bill Clinton had talked to Sestak and said he could be considered for a nonpaying commission appointment. The White House memo claimed there was no wrongdoing, but Republicans have tried to use the incidents to undercut Obama’s claims of bringing anew ethical standard to Washington politics.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., renewed his call for an independent investigation to determine whether the job discussions with Sestak and Romanoff were legal.
“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,” Issa said.
Colorado Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams concurred, saying Romanoff’s news release “raises so many more questions than it answers.”