Liz Cheney's deliberately obtuse attack on Bill Clinton and the White House

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Liz Cheney offered her thoughts on why the White House tapped former president Bill Clinton to try and persuade Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary. After saying Clinton doesn't have "an impeccable record of integrity," Cheney argued: "You know, there's a lot here that just smells funny. If the White House in fact thought that what they were doing was above board, why did they go to Bill Clinton? Why did they need a cut out for whatever they were doing?"

There's a lot going on here that's just plain wrong, not least of which the suggestion that the Obama administration, in seeking to do something improper or unethical, sought out Bill Clinton as their point man as if he's some sort of for-hire ethics violator. Fortunately, there's a much simpler, and far less nefarious, explanation for why the White House asked Clinton to talk to Sestak -- they're friends.

The New York Times reported on May 28 why it was that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel sought out Clinton:

The White House lavished attention on Senator Arlen Specter when he switched parties last year, but Rahm Emanuel realized he had a problem. To secure the seat for the Republican-turned-Democrat, Mr. Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, wanted to clear the path for Mr. Specter to win his new party's nomination.

Standing in the way was Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, a strong-willed retired admiral who was elected to the House in 2006 with Mr. Emanuel's help and was eyeing Mr. Specter's seat. So Mr. Emanuel last summer contacted the one person he thought could persuade Mr. Sestak to stand down: the president both had worked for, Bill Clinton. And to sweeten the deal, Mr. Emanuel told Mr. Clinton to dangle an unpaid presidential appointment.


Mr. Clinton was a seemingly ideal intermediary -- no one in the party save the current president has as much political heft and besides, he felt warmly about Mr. Specter, who voted against conviction in his 1999 impeachment trial.

Moreover, Mr. Sestak admired Mr. Clinton, grateful for the campaign help in 2006, a favor he returned by endorsing Hillary Rodham Clinton against Mr. Obama in 2008. When Mr. Sestak's daughter had a brain tumor, Mr. Clinton called and talked with her.

When Mr. Clinton called last July, though, Mr. Sestak quickly rejected the overture. It took only 30 to 60 seconds, he said Friday.

"He chuckled and said, 'Joe, I knew you were going to say that,' " Mr. Sestak recalled.

Indeed, earlier in the same program, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) rebutted the very argument Cheney was trying to make, pointing out that Clinton and Sestak are "close, personal friends":

CHRIS WALLACE: So, let me ask you, if it isn't illegal and it isn't improper, do you think using the former president of the United States as a political fixer and then stonewalling about it for months was dumb?

RENDELL: Well, first of all, he wasn't a political fixer. Bill Clinton and Joe Sestak are close, personal friends, and that's why they asked the former president to do it.

But this widely known and easily demonstrable fact doesn't mesh with the emerging (and unfounded) right-wing narrative of widespread Democratic corruption. So Liz Cheney just decided to play dumb and suggest that the former president's involvement necessarily made the whole enterprise suspicious.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
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