April 5th, 2008
12:26 PM ET
11 years ago

Colombia cuts ties with Clinton strategist


[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/04/art.penn.gi.jpg caption="Mark Penn is a chief strategist for the Clinton campaign."](CNN) - The Colombian government severed ties with Clinton strategist Mark Penn and his public relations firm Saturday, unhappy Penn referred to a recent meeting with the Colombian ambassador as an "error in judgment."

"Mr. Mark Penn, President and CEO of Burson Marsteller, responded to claims by Union representatives who questioned his relationship with the Colombian Government by declaring that it was an 'error in judgment' to meet with his client the Colombian Ambassador on March 31. The Colombian government considers this a lack of respect to Colombians, and finds this response unacceptable," a statement from the Colombian embassy said.

Penn's comments came Friday after it was reported he had met with the Colombian ambassador in his role as CEO of his P.R. firm to promote a free trade agreement with the country that Hillary Clinton has sharply criticized on the campaign trail.

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

The meeting, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, occurred Monday. The Colombian Embassy hired Penn's firm in 2007 to help achieve congressional approval of the trade agreement signed in 2006 by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the Bush administration.

Change to Win, a union federation that has endorsed Barack Obama and represents more than 6 million workers, immediately called on Clinton to fire Penn, saying " It’s time for [her] to send her vaunted ‘chief strategist’ Mark Penn packing - back to his job consulting for union busting corporations and anti-labor governments for good.

On Friday, Clinton spokesperson Mo Elleithee said the New York senator "remains steadfast against the Colombian Trade Bill," and maintained Penn's meeting was "not in any way done on behalf of the campaign."

Clinton has sharply criticized America's free trade agreements as she campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, and was particularly critical of rival Barack Obama in February when it was reported that one of his chief foreign policy advisors had suggested to a Canadian official that the Illinois senator was not as anti-free trade as he was claiming to be on the trail.

"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."

- CNN's Juan Carlos Lopez, Alex Mooney and Mike Roselli contributed to this report

Filed under: Hillary Clinton
soundoff (341 Responses)
  1. Sara, Wisconsin

    The Colombians have their act together better than the Clintons.

    Lobbyist as campaign manager for change in Washington?????
    Maybe we should all pay more attention to a new book coming out about the dumbing down of the United States – and how logic plays a diminished role in our thoughts and actions.

    April 5, 2008 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  2. Wrong Finger

    Mr. Penn should have raised the "other" finger

    April 5, 2008 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  3. Bob



    April 5, 2008 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  4. Alston


    Wonder if she'll do the same for every lie that gets caught if she does get elected..???

    April 5, 2008 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  5. IceNine

    Obama supporters: I think you make a serious error is calling for Penn to be fired. That would leave only Ickes and Wolffson, I mean, what good are Larry and Curley without Moe around? That's no fun at all. I think Team Clinton should stay exactly as it is!

    April 5, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  6. Buying the election.......

    Frank Smith to Sue.......and bringing Senator Obama into the White House will bring Reverend Wright and his racist, bigoted, anti-white, anti-America angry attitude. I'll take what we already know about Clinton before I would ever want our countrys White House occupied by anyone who would support such disgusting words and behavior.

    Penn is just stupid!!!! Always thought he was anyway so this is no surprise. And for those who think that Clinton lies………so does Obama so at least be fair when talking about who lies and about what.

    Let's face it folks…Clinton is ahead in PA and is gaining momentum in Indiana and North Carolina……..this even when Obama is outspending her 5-1…now if that isn't trying to buy the election – nothing is!

    Obama is not going to win in November if he gets the nomination. Absolutely, unequivocably NOT GOING TO WIN! So for all the states yet to vote – a vote for Obama is a vote for McCain – a vote for CLinton is a vote for the White House! Come together all democrats…..this process is for the White House and not an exercise as to see who can get more money and spend more money…it is about issues and who will be able to do the most for the American people AS A WHOLE once in office. That will be Senator Clinton!!!!!!

    April 5, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  7. jean-TX

    Is it Mark Penn or Hillary Clinton, or Bill Running for presidency??

    Hillary cannot control her husband.
    She cannot control her campaign finances.
    She lies, and gets caught and oops it was a mistake...I bet you she would say the same thing about Iraq's vote (oops I meant to vote against the war, but was too tired to read).

    Her 3.am ad about economy....who handles economical crisis at 3.00am.

    And oops Bill sometimes gets caaught up in the moment.THIS IS YOUR CAMPAIGN, EXEMPLIFY QUALITIES OF GOOD LEADERSHIP. If you cannot do this with your own campaing, how DO YOU EXPECT TO LEAD THE AMERICAN PEOPLE...

    Americans this is not rocket science, but merely FACTS, so pay close attentiion!!! I am not saying to elect OBAMA or McCain, but CLINTON IS UNELECTIBLE



    April 5, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  8. Jake

    If Hillary doesn't fire Penn then the Hillary supporters need to stop saying how Hillary didn't know or approve of it, because if she keeps him then she is basically saying she agrees or approves with him doing this kind of stuff behind her back.

    The only way out of this is to fire Penn or force him to resign.

    This is the 2nd time Hillary has gone behind the American people's back to discuss trade deals outside of the US, Hillary may claim she didn't know but why should I or anyone else believe her, she's lied to us before what's stopping her from lying to us again?

    April 5, 2008 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  9. Patrick, Chicago, IL

    Hillary isn't even in office yet and her surrogates are ruining out international relations.

    April 5, 2008 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  10. Hmmm

    Liar, Liar, Pantsuit on fire

    April 5, 2008 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  11. Scott

    The Clinton campaign thrashed Barack for something that it turns out one of his advisors didn't even say in regards to NAFTA.

    The fact that Senator Clinton still employs a man who admits he is ACTIVELY WORKING against the trade policy she supposedly supports should make Americans as outraged as her lies about Bosnia. This is unconscionable.

    Jonsey, you're a disgusting human being; likely either a Clinton or a McCain plant but either way, go find the rock you crawled out from under.

    April 5, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  12. from Boston

    Hillary – please dump Mark Penn. He has caused so much unhappiness in your campaign, he is not worth it. Fire him.

    April 5, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  13. Stephon L. Scott

    I think that an investigation should ensue. Something is amiss, and at the very least, Sen. Clinton should terminate his services.

    April 5, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  14. James

    Mark Penn is the chief pollster of Hillary Clinton's campaign and CEO of public relations firm Burson-Marsteller [www.burson-marsteller.com], whose clients include Diebold [www.diebold.com], manufacturer of the majority of voting machines in America.

    United Technologies this week made a sudden buyout offer for the Diebold company, at 66% more than the current stock value. Diebold has refused the offer, but United is insisting that the deal will go through in 60 days, which may evolve into a hostile takeover.

    Hmmm. Defense contractor attempts a takeover of the major manufacturer of hackable voting machines with the stated plan of closing the deal before the November national elections.

    What could their intention possibly be?

    April 5, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  15. Sharon

    Imagine if she were to choose people like Mark Penn, Howard Wolfson, Kiki McCain, Lanny Davis, etc to run our government. It's really unsettling.

    April 5, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  16. Obama supporter

    This again shows the kind of people that the Clintons surround themselves with. I have seen some people on this blog trying to compare this to the media-driven faulse hoods about the meeting between an Obama unpaid advisor and a Canadian ambasador. The details discussed in the meeting have been stated as being consistent to Obama's stance on NAFTA, which is to ensure saftey and environmental standards, and the Canadian government have appologized for the misrepresentation in the media that suggests otherwise. This case with Colombia is different because the person who is the chief strategist of a campaign that claims to be in favor of cleaning up NAFTA is lobbying an anti-union trade aggrement. This is just flat out wrong, and considering the fact that hillary has been in favor of NAFTA from the get go (remember that she held several pro-NAFTA meetings when she was the first lady), the situation points to her judgement on the kind of people she would hire to clean up the mess we are in if elected.

    April 5, 2008 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  17. Earl

    Penn was not some "low-level staffer" but in fact IS Hillary Clinton's CHIEF STRATEGIC ADVISOR – a multi-million dollar senior level spokesperson for Hillary Clinton.

    Just one more of the many lies, fabrications, "misstatements" and Fairy Tales to come out of the OFFICIAL Clinton Campaign.

    "Shame on YOU, Hillary Clinton."

    In a political campaign, the buck stops with the CANDIDATE.

    April 5, 2008 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  18. Tom Gerber

    Mark Penn is a public relations man who does a lot of business involving the federal government. Conflict of interest?

    April 5, 2008 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  19. john, veteran US Army

    The Sleazy Clinton Campaign rolls on....

    April 5, 2008 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  20. newone

    I think the most sad thing about this whole sorry affair is that CNN will not carry this story the way they did NAFTA gate just before the Ohio primaries which lost Obama that state and as it turns out it was the Clintons not Obama guilty of double talk to the Canadians/Ohio over NAFTA. The thing is that if you listen carefully to Obama's stump speeches this is exactly what he has been attacking Hillary on from day one....regardless of whatever skills and experience she may have she is so compromised by all these lobbyists and special interest groups around that she will never be able to execute any of her plans no matter how well intentioned. This unbelievable incident with Mark Penn and Colombians shows Clinton can never deliver as President...it is also interesting that the Colombians have fired Penn before Clinton (that is if she will fire him).

    April 5, 2008 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  21. Tom Gerber

    Mark Penn is a public relations man who does a lot of business involving the federal government. Conflict of interest?

    He does business with Colombia. Colombia gets billions from the U.S. government. Conflict of interest?

    April 5, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. Bernardo Duran

    This is another example of the hypocritical policy of the democrats who say that it is better to sit down and negotiate with your enemies than to support your allies.

    April 5, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  23. Jocely

    On one hand Hillary critisize Bush on selling the country's port to foreign country while her Bill clinton making deal where he's making millions of dollars. on the other hand Hillary was very toff on Obama's
    Aide for talking to the Canadian about Nafta While Hillary strategist Mark Penn is representing the Colombian on Nafta.

    I think we have enough of the Clinton.

    We need new direction. We need someone who can bring new policy, new politic, and a new ways to help us come togheter for the common good of the people and the country.


    North Carolina

    April 5, 2008 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  24. Bob

    Gee, Clinton speaking out against the Colombian trade deal while her buddy Penn is in Colombia possibly promoting it. That would explain the Colombian's anger at Penn for referring to the discussions as errors in judgement.

    Six states in America had growth in manufacturing last year,,,so much for these politicians securing the welfare of Americans!

    April 5, 2008 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  25. Deb

    Hillary obviously doesn't run her campaign as well as Obama!

    April 5, 2008 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
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