White House says it approached Romanoff, but denies job offer

The White House acknowledged on Thursday that it approached Colorado Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff with talk of a job in order to clear the field for its preferred candidate.

In an early morning statement, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted Romanoff was not actually offered a specific position, but said the White House did try to prevent Romanoff from doing battle with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) in a primary.

Gibbs portrayed White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina’s contacts with Romanoff as merely following up on an application Romanoff submitted during the presidential transition to work at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Romanoff also had called White House personnel about the position after the Obama administration took office, according to Gibbs.

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“Jim Messina called and e-mailed 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 U.S. Senate,” Gibbs said.

“Months earlier, the president had endorsed Sen. 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,” Gibbs said. “As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.”

Obama and the White House are now in the difficult position of defending backroom political maneuvering meant to help the party retain working majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats expect to lose seats in both chambers in this fall’s elections.

The White House has been hounded by GOP critics who accuse its political operation of engaging in “Chicago-style” politics, and the Romanoff talks are likely to amplify criticism that first emerged when Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak said he’d been offered a job to drop out of a primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter.

Romanoff issued a statement Wednesday night that said Messina had suggested three positions that might be available to him if he bowed out of challenging Benett. He also said none of the positions was guaranteed, and that Messina told Romanoff the president would be supporting Bennet.

“Mr. Messina also suggested three positions that might be available to me were I not pursuing the Senate race,” Romanoff said. “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 attached an e-mail to his statement that detailed the positions. They included two senior positions at USAID and director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Gibbs made no mention of the latter position in his statement Thursday morning.

After receiving the e-mail from Messina, Romanoff said he called the deputy chief of staff and left a voice mail saying that he was not withdrawing from the race.

“I have not spoken with Mr. Messina, nor have I discussed this matter with anyone else in the White House, since then,” Romanoff’s statement read.

The White House last week said former President Bill Clinton had approached Sestak about taking a job on an administration advisory board if he ended his challenge to Specter, who switched parties to give Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Republicans are calling for an independent probe to determine whether any laws were broken in either case.

“Clearly, Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff aren't isolated incidents and are indicative of a culture that embraces the politics-as-usual mentality that the American people are sick and tired of,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement.

Romanoff explained that he did not initially speak out about the matter because he wanted to avoid politicizing the situation.

“A great deal of misinformation has filled the void in the meantime,” Romanoff said. “That does not serve the public interest or any useful purpose.”

This story was updated at 9:50 a.m.