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Clinton Meddles in Florida Senate Race for Charlie Crist

The White House knew.

7:50 AM, Oct 29, 2010 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Crist’s obsession with this fan, which he often keeps below his chair during television appearances to ensure that he stays cool, is well known to the Florida political media. A local news station ran footage of Crist with the fan (after the same whirring sound muffled his audio), and the anchor noted that Crist “travels with the fan just to make sure he doesn’t look sweaty.” (The “fan” even has a Twitter account – @CcristFan.) But until the debate on Tuesday, and the Meek campaign’s email, the fan hadn’t been used as a political attack.

Will the Clinton/Crist/Meek story have any effect beyond Florida? It’s too early to say, but at a time when the White House and the Democratic establishment is doing everything it can to rally its base – and in particular energize black voters – any story about leading Democrats pressuring a credible black candidate to withdraw cannot be helpful. And with many unanswered questions about the White House’s role, press secretary Robert Gibbs will surely face intense questioning about the episode when he next faces reporters.

The original Politico story reported that the White House knew about Clinton’s conversations with Meek. In an interview with CNN, Clinton said that he had not coordinated with the White House and had told Meek not to discuss the possibility of dropping out with the White House. (The CNN report says that Clinton thought that it was “important” that Meek not talk to anyone at the White House.) It makes sense for Clinton to preserve deniability for the White House and his comments suggest that’s what he was doing. But at a minimum, the White House was aware of the maneuverings. A tweet from Steve Brusk, the coverage manager of CNN’s political unit, noted that a “senior Democratic official” told CNN’s White House correspondent Ed Henry “Clinton was operating with the knowledge of White House when he tried to convince Meek to drop out.”

Charlie Crist, in his interview with Greta Van Susteren, hinted at a much larger White House role. Crist claimed that he had spoken to “several people at the White House” about the possibility that Meek would drop out. But two hours after Crist’s appearance on Fox, his spokesman, Danny Kanner, put out a statement attempting to downplay the seriousness of the Crist-White House conversations. “The governor never asked anyone in the White House to help get Congressman Meek out of the race, and the White House never offered to help.”

So Crist was having conversations with people in a position to do the one thing that might salvage his failing candidacy and he didn’t ask them to do the one thing that might help him? That seems unlikely, particularly given what we know about Crist’s willingness to say or do anything to avoid the end of his political career. If they didn’t talk about getting Meek out of the race, what did they talk about? Crist told Van Susteren that his conversations with the White House took place after his talks with Clinton aide Doug Band. It’s possible that Band told Crist the deal was done – something Smith reported in his original Politico piece – and that Crist talked to the White House with the understanding that Meek was out, which would mean he didn’t have to ask the White House for help and the White House didn’t have to offer. Maybe.

So who took Crist’s calls at the White House? And what did they talk about?

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