- Congressman representing Pennsylvania’s 7th District
- Served as the National Security Council's Director for Defense Policy in the Bill Clinton administration
- Maintains close political ties to such Clintonites as Sandy Berger and Harold Ickes
- Strong supporter of Hillary Clinton
- Hired a Council on American-Islamic Relations communications director as a congressional staffer
- Was offered a job by the Obama administration in 2009, in exchange for his pledge not to challenge Arlen Specter in the following year's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate race
Born December 12, 1951 in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Democrat Joe Sestak, Jr. was elected to Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006.
A retired U.S. Navy vice admiral, Sestak served as the National Security Council's Director for Defense Policy in the Bill Clinton administration. His 2006 congressional campaign received strong support from onetime Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, who, in March of that year, held a fundraiser for Sestak which raised tens of thousands of dollars. The venue for the fundraiser was the Washington, DC law office of attorneys Janice Enright (Treasurer of Hillary Clinton’s 2006 Senate campaign) and Harold Ickes (onetime Deputy Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton). Sestak's campaign spokesperson, Allison Price, was Director of Communications at Sandy Berger’s DC-based consulting and lobbying firm.
Contributions to Sestak’s 2006 campaign also came from private donors such as Media Matters for America CEO David Brock; former Bill Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan; former Clinton counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke; former Clinton deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick; former Democrat Senator Bob Kerrey; actor Edward Norton; comedienne Rosie O’Donnell; entertainer Barbra Streisand; billionaire financier George Soros; and Norman Hsu (a businessman who illegally bundled donations to Hillary Clinton’s 2006 Senate campaign as a way of circumventing campaign-finance rules).
In 2007 Sestak accepted an invitation to speak at a fundraiser for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). That same year, he hired the Communications Director of CAIR’s Pennsylvania office, Adeeba Al Zaman, as a congressional staffer. A few months prior to being hired by Sestak, Zaman had been in Minnesota working to help Keith Ellison become the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress.
During his tenure in the House of Representatives, Sestak voted:
- in favor of separate proposals (both in 2007) to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq swiftly and by a specified date;
- against President Bush’s 2007 decision to deploy some 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers in an effort to quell the violent insurgents in Iraq;
- in favor of a 2007 proposal to expedite the transfer of all prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention center; and
- in favor of the massive health-care reform bill that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010.
In early 2009, Sestak announced that he planned to run for the U.S. Senate seat of longtime Republican incumbent Arlen Specter the following year. Soon thereafter, Specter -- at the urging of Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden -- switched parties and became a Democrat, thereby giving the Democrats a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; this would be crucial to the passage of health care reform. In return for the party switch, Obama promised Specter that he would endorse him for reelection in 2010, and that Specter would face no significant opposition in the Democrat primary. But Sestak, who had already declared his own candidacy, refused to drop out of the race in deference to Specter.
As Peter Ferrara reported in The American Spectator, for months thereafter Sestak "publicly claimed that President Obama tried to keep his promise to Specter by offering him [Sestak] a high-ranking administration appointment if he would get out of the race." Added Ferrara:
"The rumor is that Sestak, formerly an Admiral, was offered appointment as Secretary of the Navy. The problem is that a federal statute explicitly provides that it is a federal felony ... to attempt to bribe a candidate with a federal job, or anything of value, to influence an election."
In a February 2010 interview with the Philadelphia Enquirer, Sestak was asked to confirm whether there was any truth to rumors that the Obama White House had offered him a job with the administration as an inducement to let Specter win the Democrat primary unopposed. Sestak told the interviewer that the White House had indeed called him "many times" about the matter. When asked if the job offer was for the position of Secretary of the Navy, Sestak said: "No comment." He also declared that he had turned the offer down, and that he was committed to running for the Senate.
After Sestak ultimately defeated Specter in the Democratic Senate primary in May 2010, the victor was again asked to elaborate on the nature of the White House job offer, but he refused to provide any details. In response to subsequent calls by the public for transparency on the matter, White House counsel Bob Bauer reported that during the period of June and July 2009, Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had called on his old employer, Bill Clinton, to approach Sestak and offer him a non-paid position on a presidential panel. But as The American Spectator noted, "that story is not plausible because as a sitting member of Congress he [Sestak] could not have legally served on such a Presidential Board.
In August 2010, Bill Clinton denied that he had ever encouraged Sestak to drop out of Pennsylvania’s Senate race.