Clinton Chief Strategist Pushed Out

Apr 6, 2008 6:38pm

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Jake Tapper and Eloise Harper Report: Mark Penn has been pushed out as chief strategist of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign after his work on a Colombian free-trade agreement that Clinton opposes, sources tell ABC News.

Sources said that the Clintons were angry to learn about Penn’s work, especially because they had been told that Penn had recused himself from controversial clients and would restrict his private work.

Though Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams said, "After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as chief strategist of the Clinton campaign," sources told ABC News Penn was pushed.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Friday that Penn, who also is chief executive of the lobbying and public relations firm Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, had been hired by the Colombian government to help secure a trade deal.

On Saturday, the Colombian government said it was firing Penn’s firm after he said through the Clinton campaign that his consultations with Colombian officials were "an error in judgment that will not be repeated, and I am sorry for it."

Clinton spoke about her opposition to the Colombia trade deal last week in her speech to the AFL-CIO in Philadelphia, and on Saturday seven labor unions that are part of the "Change to Win" coalition called for Clinton to fire Penn.

"The Penn situation — and the lack of action by you — raises serious questions about the veracity of your claims of what you would do should you become president," the unions said in a statement released Saturday.

Penn’s firm — Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. — will remain on board providing polling and advice to the campaign, though he will no longer serve as the chief strategist, Williams said. Instead, Geoff Garin and Howard Wolfson will head up the message for the campaign.

The Colombia trade controversy was not the first case in which a client of Penn’s irritated the Clinton campaign.

The work a Burson Marsteller subsidiary did for controversial war contractor Blackwater, and Penn’s work for the union-busting corporation Cintas were other instances in which the Clinton campaign didn’t appreciate having its name associated with Penn clients.

But it was a bridge too far for Penn when Sen. Hillary Clinton heard the news that Penn had met with the Colombians on the trade deal.

Penn also was regarded by many in the campaign as too self-serving, particularly after a Los Angeles Times profile of the campaign written after her horrible month of February, when Penn was quoted saying that he had "no direct authority in the campaign," describing himself as merely "an outside message advisor with no campaign staff reporting to me."

"I have had no say or involvement in four key areas — the financial budget and resource allocation, political or organizational sides," he reportedly said. "Those were the responsibility of Patti Solis Doyle, Harold Ickes and Mike Henry, and they met separately on all matters relating to those areas."

That eyebrow-raising display of running from failure was contradicted by senior staffers such as Wolfson, who told the newspaper that Penn had top responsibility for strategy and message.

Then there was this infamous exchange with Clinton consigliere Ickes from a recent Washington Post profile of the campaign:

Ickes to Penn: "[Expletive] you!"

Penn to Ickes: "[Expletive] you!" 

Ickes to Penn: "[Expletive] you!"

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