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Mark Penn Apologizes for Colombian Trade Meeting

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's top political strategist, apologized today for meeting with officials of the Colombian government to advocate a trade agreement that Clinton opposes.

"The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated, and I am sorry for it," Penn said in a statement the campaign released. "The senator's well-known opposition to this trade deal is clear and was not discussed."

Penn, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, met with Colombia's ambassador as recently as Monday to discuss how to get a bilateral free trade agreement passed between the South American nation and the U.S. Campaign officials said the meeting was done as part of Penn's separate job as chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, an international communications and lobbying firm.

But the meeting is problematic for the Clinton campaign for two reasons. The candidate has been a vocal opponent of free trade agreements, even telling audiences she privately opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement that her husband aggressively and successfully pushed through Congress in the early 1990s. And, on the stump, Clinton for the past month has blasted Barack Obama because Canadian officials had said Obama's chief economics adviser, University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, downplayed Obama's NAFTA opposition in a meeting with the Canadian consulate in Chicago. Goolsbee has denied that account.

Goolsbee, of course, only met Obama in 2004; Penn has been a longtime political adviser and pollster to both Clinton and her husband for more than a decade. His dual roles, running a major lobbying firm while advising the campaign, have long been debated because they might cause potential conflicts for his candidate.

A group of unions called Change to Win, which has endorsed Obama, called for Clinton to fire Penn, saying in a statement "the last revelation that Penn ... is actively involved in securings its passage in the middle of Senator Clinton's presidential campaign is outrageous. ... It is time for Penn to go."

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 4, 2008; 2:09 PM ET
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Clintons words in OH:

"I don't think people should come to Ohio and tell the people of Ohio one thing and then have your campaign tell a foreign government something else behind closed doors," Clinton said then. "That's the kind of difference between talk and action and that I've been pointing out in this campaign."

"I would ask you to look at that story, substitute my name for Senator Obama," she also said. "If some of my advisers had been having private meetings with foreign governments and basically saying ignore what I'm saying because it's only political rhetoric ... I think it raises serious questions."

Well Clinton, here are times that you ask yourself serious questions, like "Is it worth it to destroy my chances for reelection in the Senate, to stay in this race".

Posted by: reggie.stephens | April 5, 2008 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Below is a tinyurl link to a copy of the actual "NAFTA-gate" memo on the National Post website. As you can see if you read it carefully, Goolsbee was not telling the Canadian officials anything different from what Obama was saying on the stump, namely that they would try to have changes made to the NAFTA in order to better protect workers and the environment.

This was no scandal all - and definitely *not* a case of "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" on the part of the Obama campaign.

Posted by: jltournier1 | April 5, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Colombia is the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world. Nine out of ten flowers you buy at the florist were grown in Colombia. Colombia has the best economy of any country in Latin America and they want to buy American made products without having to pay a tariff or extra duty.

Medellin is a modern well-run city with a brand new mass transit system. There is less crime in Medellin than in the District of Columbia.

This is a classic case of the Democrats pandering to the AFL-CIO. Obama, Nancy and Hillary would rather shout: Viva Hugo Chavez!

Posted by: alance | April 5, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

And the Clinton campaign says they see no conflict of interest in this matter. Huh?

Posted by: SueB2 | April 4, 2008 8:07 PM | Report abuse

"The Colombian government uses violence, including murder, to supress union activity. At least when Walmart busts up unions, they don't kill anyone.....'as far as I know.' Let's ask Hillary."

I HEART when someone manages to tie three story lines together in ... three sentences! Kudos to you RollaMo, Kudos!

Posted by: abbatrey | April 4, 2008 7:39 PM | Report abuse

In 2000 George W Bush required Karl Rove
to sell his direct mail business before
coming on board as his chief political
strategist. Hillary made no similar demand
of Mark Penn with regard to his holdings in the multifaceted Burson-Marsteller Worldwide
If your ethical standards are beneath George W. & Karl Rove what can you expect?

Posted by: robert | April 4, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Amen, m.kreck--by Senator Clinton's own standards, this should be front page news. Which is more offensive? The blatant appearance of impropriety, or the Clinton campaign's laughably bad judgment at keeping Mark Penn at the helm.

Posted by: mikeo12 | April 4, 2008 7:21 PM | Report abuse

Attention Blue collar workers in Pennsylvania:

"I would ask you to look at this story and substitute my name for Sen. Obama's name and see what you would do with this story... Just ask yourself [what you would do] if some of my advisers had been having private meetings with foreign governments." - Senator Hillary Clinton

OH THE sweet

Posted by: m.kreck | April 4, 2008 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Bosnia "sniper fire" tale = liar.

Bashing Obama for his campaign adviser's softness on NAFTA while Clinton's own chief strategist is secretly meeting with the Columbian government to strategize passage of a free trade deal = hypocrite.

Small wonder a clear majority in public opinion polls say Hillary Clinton is "not honest and trustworthy."

Posted by: bradk1 | April 4, 2008 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I am for these trade agreements, with the proper safeguards, and think our real problems are with China; not the Western Hemisphere.

So I suppose I should be glad that both Ds are panderers who also believe in free trade, while telling union voters they are against it.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 4, 2008 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Where's the noise on this one? Why not front page news. For all the baloney she gave Obama about a "non" story in Candada, it comes to find out that Clinton really IS for these trade agreements. Don't you think Pennsylvania voters would like to know this? Forget her taxes, we can look into that over time. THIS is the news story. Are we SURE Clinton is against this agreement? Why did the Columbian stooge call out Obama on being against the trade agreeement? Could THAT have been the doing of Mr. Penn? Clinton stinks on everything.

Posted by: DeboG | April 4, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse


US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
Has Already Received His PERSONAL BAIL-OUT

Under Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's .. Former leadership at
Goldman Sachs, the company has been instrumental to its penetration of Western
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China's .. Interests and enabling their access to Western economic assistance
and high technology

In late January 2006, Goldman Sachs purchased a stake in the Industrial and
Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China's biggest bank, for $2.58 billion
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson''''s .. Personal stake .. In this transaction
was $25 million

A PERSONAL BAIL OUT for : Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and His
Criminal Friends

(Mar 27, 2008 ( BBC) ... White House Resists Pleas for .. Mortgage Bailout
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As clamor rises for federal help for homeowners
who face losing their homes .. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson .. Seems
to be digging in heels against the effort.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson sounded a tougher note than ever against any
possibility of bailout for individual mortgage holders, singling out the growing number
going "under water" as their loans exceed the diminishing value of their properties.


Posted by: foramerica | April 4, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Mark Penn is a pinhead and Hillary pays millions of dollars for his services? Small wonder her campaign has so little money when you squander it on such pinheads. Hillary, if she has any common sense, would fire him . . . like yesterday!

Posted by: meldupree | April 4, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Mark Penn's story breaks out and they release the tax returns. Brilliant!

Posted by: al_164_1999 | April 4, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Mark Penn is Clinton's chief strategist. Clinton has a propensity for lying and obfuscation. How can we ever know if this wasn't a "wink, wink, nod, nod" situation?
The people in Ohio were taken in by the Clinton lies about NAFTA. Let's hope the people in the upcoming primaries see the truth. Which candidate really cares about your jobs? I don't think it's the one with the chief strategist who lobbies for union busters and unfair free trade agreements.

Posted by: SueB2 | April 4, 2008 3:59 PM | Report abuse

The Colombian government uses violence, including murder, to supress union activity. At least when Walmart busts up unions, they don't kill anyone.....'as far as I know.' Let's ask Hillary.

Posted by: RollaMO | April 4, 2008 3:39 PM | Report abuse

thejanet wrote: "It's darn near impossible to find a positive article about Clinton these days. I'm so sick of the media trying to decide this election for us."

Have you ever considered that maybe it's NOT a media conspiracy, but instead a run of genuinely bad news for the Clinton campaign? Her once formidable lead in the polls slipping away in Pennsylvania. Beaten badly on the fundraising front, unable to compete in media buys in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana, reports of mounting unpaid bills. Counting on superdelegates as her only hope of winning the nomination, only to see them gravitating inexorably toward Obama. Behind, probably by irretrievable margins, in both elected delegates and the popular vote, and falling farther behind in total delegates almost every day. Sagging poll numbers nationally against both Obama and McCain. Rising unfavorability ratings, compounded by the Bosnia "sniper fire" whopper underscoring her greatest vulnerability, her perceived lack of honesty and trustworthiness (55% of the public regarding her a "not honest and trustworthy"). And now, after she had some modest success in Ohio trying to portray Obama as duplicitous on NAFTA, seeing her own message completely undercut, and her credibility and trustworthiness further tarnished, by news that behind the scenes her chief campaign adviser is directly involved in efforts to push through another free trade deal.

Do you think the media just made all this up? Or that they should not report it, in the interest of being kind to Hillary? Or could it be that her campaign is really foundering and possibly near collapse, in which case it might be the public's right to know such things, and the mews media's professional duty to report it?

Posted by: bradk1 | April 4, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

thejaner: This isn't a pro- or anti- article. It's reporting a fact: that Mark Penn, the chief strategist for Sen. Hillary Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign - and CEO of Burson Marsteller, a global public relations firm - met with Colombian officials in support of CAFTA, a proposed free trade agreement Clinton has publicly opposed.

(Note the word "apparent". This is because, as the CBC *and* the Toronto Globe and Mail have both reported, it was actually the CLINTON campaign who first contacted Canadian officials to privately express Clinton's support for NAFTA. The Canadian government then contacted Austan Goolsbee, an economic adviser to Obama, separately for a meeting. That contact was made directly to Goolsbee, and was not sent through the Obama campaign.

Naturally, Clinton failed to mention this while riling up the working class in Ohio. Naturally, Clinton will say nothing about the fact that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe - notorious for using "death squads" to bust unions in his country - just made very negative comments about Obama...for opposing CAFTA, just like Clinton has done publicly. Of course, Uribe had nothing to say about Clinton's opposition to CAFTA.

Naturally, her supporters will accept as holy writ Penn's assertion that he wasn't there on behalf of the campaign, while not giving Goolsbee and Obama the same credit - even though the Canadian government says that no one from the Obama campaign ever approached them.

This article was pretty fair. It tells the whole truth, and nothing but. Penn's dual role as advisor and lobbyist IS a conflict of interest - even many of her campaign's insiders have urged Clinton to fire Penn. Clinton HAS claimed to have opposed NAFTA after her husband's election - even though her records as First Lady show only meetings where she was a vocal pro-NAFTA participant or leader. Clinton DID use the Canadian flap to great extent in the days running up to the Ohio primary to not only hammer Obama's experience, but also his credibility.

So, it's just funny that in the end, Obama turns out to have told the truth about NAFTA-gate - and Clinton gets to dodge "sniper fire" about CAFTA-gate.

By the way - "Clinton-bashing" would have been to use words like "hypocrite", "dissembler", and "congenital liar".

Posted by: blitzburgh64 | April 4, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

The Colombians paid Mark Penn's firm $300,000 last year, to "open communications with members of Congress." Like, you think they didn't know he's Mrs. Clinton's chief strategist??? I agree with the sentiment of jkallen (but not the typography -- annoying). It's the hypocrisy, stupid! To make so much out of a one-time meeting called for by the Canadian consulate in Chicago and an unpaid Obama advisor, Professor Goolsby, was incredibly calculating, and appalling in light of this gaffe. No, I don't think Mark Penn would be so stupid as to say openly, hey I'll get this in front of my boss Mrs. Clinton -- but what in the world does any reasonble person believe the "understanding" was and what the Colombians thought they got for their money?? I hope the press uses the same microscope on this that they did on Prof. Goolsby's meeting.

Posted by: Omyobama | April 4, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm a Hillary supporter. I think she should fire him too.

Posted by: badger3 | April 4, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

But the meeting is problematic for the Clinton campaign for two reason...


So begins Mr Bacon's typically unprofessional opinion column masquerading as the "analysis" portion of a news item. Why is this allowed by the Post?

Posted by: zukermand | April 4, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

It's darn near impossible to find a positive article about Clinton these days.

I'm so sick of the media trying to decide this election for us. ABC has nothing but negative articles running right now about Clinton. When did the media decide it wasn't enough to report the news and decide to start manipulating it? It is embarrassing to watch all of these male reporters get all hot and bothered over Obama. The hardball guy is the most recent one to get all worked up and excited. It was so weird, I had to change the channel. It make all of these news stations seem a lot like tabloid news. They are losing their credibility. It has actually been so grotesque to watch that I had to go to Hillary Clinton's website and donate more money.

Posted by: thejaner | April 4, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

You guys should really copy edit your stuff a little more. I don't want to be a stickler, but it's pretty distracting.

Posted by: ManUnitdFan | April 4, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing President John F. Kennedy's challenge to, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," gave up his student deferment, left college in Virginia and voluntarily joined the Marines.
In 1963, this man, having completed his two years of service in the Marines, volunteered again to become a Navy corpsman. (They provide medical assistance to the Marines as well as to Navy personnel.) The man did so well in corpsman school that he was the valedictorian and became a cardiopulmonary technician. Not surprisingly, he was assigned to the Navy's premier medical facility, Bethesda Naval Hospital, as a member of the commander in chief's medical team, and helped care for President Lyndon B. Johnson after his 1966 surgery. For his service on the team, which he left in 1967, the White House awarded him three letters of commendation. What is even more remarkable is that this man entered the Marines and Navy not many years after the two branches began to become integrated. While this young man was serving six years on active duty, Vice President Dick Cheney, who was born the same year as the Marine/sailor, received five deferments, four for being an undergraduate and graduate student and one for being a prospective father. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both five years younger than the African-American youth, used their student deferments to stay in college until 1968. Both then avoided going on active duty through family connections. Who is the real patriot? The young man who interrupted his studies to serve his country for six years or our three political leaders who beat the system? Are the patriots the people who actually sacrifice something or those who merely talk about their love of the country? After leaving the service of his country, the young African-American finished his final year of college, entered the seminary, was ordained as a minister, and eventually became pastor of a large church in one of America's biggest cities. This man is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, who has been in the news for comments he made over the last three decades. Since these comments became public we have heard criticisms, condemnations, denouncements and rejections of his comments and him. We've seen on television, in a seemingly endless loop, sound bites of a select few of Rev. Wright's many sermons. Some of the Wright's comments are inexcusable and inappropriate and should be condemned, but in calling him "unpatriotic," let us not forget that this is a man who gave up six of the most productive years of his life to serve his country. How many of Wright's detractors, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly to name but a few, volunteered for service, and did so under the often tumultuous circumstances of a newly integrated armed forces and a society in the midst of a civil rights struggle? Not many. While words do count, so do actions. Let us not forget that, for whatever Rev. Wright may have said over the last 30 years, he has demonstrated his patriotism.,0,92000.story

Posted by: jkallen001 | April 4, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse




Posted by: jkallen001 | April 4, 2008 2:13 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: jkallen001 | April 4, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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