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. J S

    Thank God that a leader has finally stepped forward and done the right thing re: the double-dealing Mark Penn.

    Of course when it turns out that your Presidential campaign has lower ethics than the government of union-busting Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.. not a good sign.

    April 5, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  2. caughtinaction

    Time to put her foot in her mouth and start sucking it.

    April 5, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  3. James M

    You can't choose your family, but you can choose your campaign manager.

    April 5, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  4. Independent

    Is this how President H. Clinton is going to regain our standing in the world community??????????????

    April 5, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  5. Tyler in Raleigh, NC

    Way to go Clinton!!! Continue with the doublespeak and lies, the American people seem to have bought it so far.

    I wonder how many voters in OH now wish they had another chance, after all the informaiton coming out on Clinton being a BIG supporter from the start until now.

    Or wait, is she still only "half-heartedly" supporting this to help Willy and she is really against it (like Iraq) when she votes for it?

    April 5, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  6. Hillarythelier

    People substitute Hillary's name for Obama, it is what you got know judge for your self be honest doing it. Can she be trusted?. I say no I like to hear yours.

    April 5, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  7. James

    For you that are so busy wanting to blame Hillary for Penn's error (and I feel he should be fired) but Hillary is no to blame for his judgement.

    Top Obama campaign officials got a PR firm for Wright's church. Yet Obama would have left this church if Wright had not retired. Totally laughable since horrible remarks have been made since 9/11 and yet he never left that church or that minister. Change... I think not!!!!

    April 5, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  8. ChasMack99

    Make no mistake, Hillary supports CAFTA just like she supported NAFTA.

    What's truly amazing is that the Clinton campaign did not fire Penn...so, apparently, the Columbians have higher ethical standards than the habitually lying Clinton machine.

    April 5, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  9. ll

    you want to talk about issues let see: Obama rather to support FARC and money-laundry drug warlords in Colombia than supporting a president that if few years has been able to protect latin-america of a takeover from communist forces and that today has over 80% of acceptability. Please clarify this issue.

    April 5, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  10. joyce

    yes hillary got caught
    she should be an actress, her speech a at mlk event, and the speech dodging bullets, wow what a performance, she needs to go into show bus

    April 5, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  11. Lisa

    The government of Colombia demonstrates more ethical behavior than Clinton. Do you not believe that Penn led them to believe that his relationship with Hillary Clinton would benefit them in some way down the road? Why wouldn't Hillary be concern about Penn's behavior? Maybe she knew more about this wink, wink deal than she protests – otherwise she wouldn't be keeping Penn at her side.

    April 5, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  12. Alan DeGracia

    Sorry, only because you got caught.

    April 5, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  13. Tubby The Tuba Texas

    I think it is clear now, especially look at the White House papers released, that Hillary is VERY much a support of the Free Trade Agreement! She pushed and supported it during her husband's administration and she is still pushing it now. I wonder how secure Ohio feels about having supported such a liar? In her last debate she shun the statement that she supported the FTA and lied on air, only to for us to discover that she really supported it as Obama said.

    April 5, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  14. Fred

    When your chief strategies is so cynical and slezy that even the Colomibian government doesn't want to work with you, you know you have big trouble.

    April 5, 2008 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  15. kaetochi

    Mark Penn is just like Karl Rove. Full of deceit and hypocrisy. Enough of Hillary and her pathetic gang of campaign adviser

    April 5, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  16. James

    Great, just another in a swelling tide of "lapses in judgment" that have come to define the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton.

    April 5, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  17. Russell NC

    How can Hillary run the country when she can't control her staff? The Monica affair went on right under her nose. She declared that it was a right-wing conspiracy.

    April 5, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  18. Skeptical in Illinois

    A candidate is not alone in her position, she brings her advisors with her, and if this is the "foreign policy experience" she offers.

    ... Clinton supporters, you need to drop her like a red hot iron bar...

    April 5, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  19. Chris in Va.

    Clinton trying to throw away more American jobs before she even becomes president. I hope you're paying attention Pennsylvania!

    April 5, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  20. Mariposa4Life

    I guess that's what happens when you try to play both sides...
    That goes for you too Hillary!

    April 5, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  21. ALWAYS RIGHT (of left) Twin Cities, MN

    I guess that's what happens when you try to play both sides...
    That goes for you too Hillary!

    April 5, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  22. ellianna

    I'll bet there is MORE TO THIS STORY than any of us know!!

    April 5, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  23. Will

    The error in judgment was in his own spin control. Had he said "It was a conflict of interest", he or at least his company might have kept the contract.


    April 5, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  24. Dan

    This is only the beginning of the Clinton nightmare! She has ZERO integrity world wide, and no hope of saving our country.

    April 5, 2008 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  25. Chris in Va.

    Charlotte : "Hillary is still the best choice for this country and it's econmic future."

    How??? By exporting MORE jobs to foreign countries???? Dear, you are as delusional as your girlfriend.

    April 5, 2008 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
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