For three months, the White House has refused to say whether it offered a job to Representative Joe Sestak to get him to drop his challenge to Senator Arlen Specter in a Pennsylvania Democratic primary, as Mr. Sestak has asserted.
But the White House wants everyone who suspects that something untoward, or even illegal, might have happened to rest easy: though it still will not reveal what happened, the White House is reassuring skeptics that it has examined its own actions and decided it did nothing wrong. Whatever it was that it did.
The surprisingly cynical text box: "No principles were harmed in making this election, the White House says."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the "trust us" response from the White House has not exactly put the matter to rest. With Mr. Sestak's victory over Mr. Specter in last week's primary, the questions have returned with intensity, only to remain unanswered. Mr. Gibbs deflected questions 13 times at a White House briefing last week just two days after the primary. Mr. Sestak, a retired admiral, has reaffirmed his assertion without providing any details, like who exactly offered what job.
Baker raised the hypocrisy point:
Even if the conversations were perfectly legal, as the White House claims, the situation challenges President Obama's efforts to present himself as a reformer who will fix a town of dirty politics. And the refusal to even discuss what was discussed does not advance the White House's well-worn claim to being "the most transparent" in history.
When Mr. Gibbs was pressed on the matter Thursday, he resolutely referred to his original statement exonerating the White House and refused to elaborate.
Ron Kaufman, who had the same job under the first President George Bush, said it would not be surprising for a White House to use political appointments to accomplish a political goal. "Tell me a White House that didn't do this, back to George Washington," Mr. Kaufman said. "But here's the difference - the times have changed and the ethics have changed and the scrutiny has changed. This is the kind of thing people across America are mad about."
Moreover, he said, Mr. Obama's own rhetoric raised the bar: "When you get out there and say, 'We're going to do things totally different, we're above all this and we're going to be totally transparent,' they cause their own problem because they're not being transparent."