Colombia, Clinton Get Rid of Mark Penn Over Trade

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/06/2008 07:01:00 PM
This has to be the most abysmal story in the race to the White House: Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's campaign strategist and author of Microtrends, has rightly been singled out for his glaring inconsistency over the Colombia - US bilateral trade deal. You see, Missus Clinton has said that she will not be signing on to such a deal. (Ditto for Obama.) At the same time, however, Penn has been working as CEO of the lobbying firm Burson-Marsteller to help get the deal passed. Recently, Penn made an apology for meeting Colombian officials over the trade deal. Let us start with the apology then follow it up with the unsurprising conclusion:

Mark Penn, the chief campaign strategist for Hillary Clinton, apologized for meeting with Colombian officials to discuss a bilateral free-trade agreement opposed by Clinton. ``The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated and I am sorry for it,'' Penn said in a written statement about his March 31 talk with the Colombian ambassador. ``The senator's well-known opposition to this trade deal is clear and was not discussed,'' he said in the statement released by Clinton's campaign.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Penn attended the meeting as chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, a communications and lobbying firm, not as a Clinton adviser. Burson-Marsteller has a contract with Colombia to promote U.S. approval of the deal, according to documents the company filed with the Department of Justice last year.

``Mark was not there representing the campaign,'' Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee said. ``Senator Clinton is crystal clear in her opposition to the Colombia trade deal.'' Paul Cordasco, a spokesman for Burson-Marsteller, declined to comment, as did Sandra Ocampo, a spokeswoman for the Colombian Embassy in Washington.

Since that time, though, the Colombians have responded to Penn's apology. Apparently, they were none too pleased with the insinuation that their pursuit of a bilateral trade deal was something that needed a mea culpa. As a consequence, they have now fired the rather two-faced Penn. Colombian officials said "the Colombian government considers that declaration a lack of respect towards Colombians, which is unacceptable":

The communications and lobbying firm run by Mark Penn, the chief campaign strategist for Hillary Clinton, was fired by the Colombian government after Penn called a meeting with his clients an ``error in judgment.''

Colombia ended its contract with Burson-Marsteller because Penn's comments showed ``a lack of respect to Colombians,'' according to a statement on the government's Web site. Penn apologized yesterday for meeting with Colombian officials to discuss a free-trade agreement that Clinton opposes.

Burson-Marsteller's contract to promote a free-trade deal with Colombia threatens to undercut Clinton's support among blue collar workers, a key constituency in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary that she must win to keep her campaign alive. Clinton and Democratic rival Barack Obama have both made trade agreements a top issue, saying they cost American manufacturing jobs.

The controversy also recalls Clinton's accusation last month that Obama, a Senator from Illinois, misled voters about his views on trade because his economic adviser held a private meeting with Canadians that included a discussion of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Clinton and Obama have both said they favor renegotiating that pact...

Burson-Marsteller's contract with Colombia was to promote U.S. approval of a trade deal, according to documents the company filed with the Department of Justice last year.

I guess Penn didn't see the rather self-obvious "macrotrend" of voters generally frowning on such obvious hypocrisy. It further illustrates the adage that "you can't serve two masters at the same time." How will this latest flap affect the Clinton campaign? The left-leaning Independent sees curtains for Missus Clinton:

The wheels may be about to come off Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidential nomination following a series of damaging news reports less than three weeks before a potentially decisive primary contest with Barack Obama in Pennsylvania.

Mrs Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, has been forced to apologise after he was discovered lobbying for a free-trade agreement her campaign opposes. The proposed Colombia trade agreement is bitterly opposed by trade unions and human rights groups, and there are growing calls on Mrs Clinton to axe him.

Mr Penn has kept his $3m (£1.5m) a year job as head of the British-owned lobbying firm Burson-Marsteller while guiding Mrs Clinton's campaign. The man who helped Bill Clinton get into the White House has produced some of Mrs Clinton's most effective ads, including the recent "3am in the morning" ad, which stressed her round-the-clock capacity for handling crises.

Mr Penn described his lobbying meeting with Colombia's ambassador as "an error of judgment". Mrs Clinton's appeal among working-class voters has taken a further knock from revelations that she and her husband earned a combined $109m over the past eight years. This puts them in the top one-hundredth of 1 per cent of all US taxpayers.
And here is the coup de grace, ladies and gentlemen: Penn has not only been fired by the Colombian government, but he has also been asked to resign by the Clinton campaign. Below is the statement from Maggie Williams, Clinton's campaign manager. Apparently, Missus Clinton was not very amused with the double dealings of Penn. Due to his lack of discretion, Penn has lost the support of both his paymasters:

"After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as Chief Strategist of the Clinton Campaign; Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign. Geoff Garin and Howard Wolfson will coordinate the campaign's strategic message team going forward."