Just words? Part II (MORE: “FREE MARKET-TYPE” GOOLSBEE WON’T CONFIRM OR DENY MEETINGS W/ RIOUX)

Posted by: ST on February 29, 2008 at 6:30 pm

**Bump to the top – scroll down to the bottom for updates**

Yesterday, I wrote about a CTV (Canada) story that reported that a “senior member” of BO’s campaign told the Canadian Ambassador Michael Smith that Barack Obama’s tough talk against NAFTA was merely campaign rhetoric, and assured them not to worry. Naturally, all camps denied anything was said (Smith himself, to my knowledge, hasn’t commented). I posted some updates to that story in my original post but wanted to start a new one on it with the info because I think the update deserves it’s own post. CTV is standing by its report:

The Obama campaign told CTV late Thursday night that no message was passed to the Canadian government that suggests that Obama does not mean what he says about opting out of NAFTA if it is not renegotiated.

However, the Obama camp did not respond to repeated questions from CTV on reports that a conversation on this matter was held between Obama’s senior economic adviser — Austan Goolsbee — and the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago.

[...]

On Thursday, the Canadian embassy in Washington issued a complete denial.

“At no time has any member of a presidential campaign called the Canadian ambassador or any official at the embassy to discuss NAFTA,” it said in a statement.

But just yesterday, one of the primary sources of the story, a high-ranking member of the Canadian embassy, gave CTV more details of the call. He even provided a timeline. He has since suggested it was perhaps a miscommunication.

The denial from the embassy was followed by a denial from the Obama campaign.

“The Canadian government put out a statement saying that this was just not true, so I don’t know who the sources were” said Obama.

Sources at the highest levels of the Canadian government — who first told CTV that a call was made from the Obama camp — have reconfirmed their position.

Jake Tapper has more:

ABC News’ Jennifer Parker spoke to Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economics professor, Thursday who would not confirm or deny that he had a conversation with Georges Rioux, the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago. Rioux, in meetings this week in Ottawa, would also neither confirm nor deny any conversation took place. Both men did say that they know each other.

What not a lot of people caught yesterday was the double speak coming from Canadian officials, which I noted last night. First, there was the official denial:

A spokesman for the Canadian Embassy to the United States, Tristan Landry, flatly denied the CTV report that a senior Obama aide had told the Canadian ambassador not to take seriously Obama’s denunciations of NAFTA.

“None of the presidential campaigns have called either the ambassador or any of the officials here to raise NAFTA,” Landry said.

He said there had been no conversations at all on the subject.

“We didn’t make any calls, they didn’t call us,” Landry said.

“There is no story as far as we’re concerned,” he said.

No calls at all? The Canadian embassy’s minister of public affairs is singing a different tune:

Roy Norton, the minister of public affairs for the Canadian embassy, is flatly denying that any Obama campaign official spoke to the Canadian ambassador in recent days or told him that Obama’s anti-NAFTA stump speech is merely “campaign rhetoric.”

“No, none,” Norton told me when I asked him if Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., had spoken to any Obama advisers recently. He added: “Neither before the Ohio debate nor since has any presidential campaign called Ambassador Wilson about NAFTA.”

Norton did allow, however, that the embassy on the staff level had discussed multiple issues, including NAFTA, with the Obama and Hillary campaigns at various times, and had urged them to look at NAFTA in a positive light.

“We’ve impressed upon them the fact that NAFTA has been good for all three countries,” Norton said. “They have made it clear that NAFTA is an issue of contention in the [U.S.], and that inevitably there would be discussion and debate surrounding NAFTA.”

He denied, of course, that either campaign had made any commitments one way or the other.

As intriguing as this story is, the only way it has legs is if one of the high ranking sources CTV claims to have steps forward, and that’s highly unlikely, as no Canadian official is going to want to be seen as trying to influence a US presidential election. BO himself is acting as though he is above it all, if what I saw last night on TV of his reaction when a reporter travelling with him who asked him about it was any indication.

On a related note, I read a fascinating piece last night written yesterday by a guy who used to cover Barack Obama when he was still a state Senator (this 2004 piece he wrote provides some additional background). Bits and pieces of what I read in this story I’ve seen elsewhere, but he has a whole lot more, and explains how Obama’s star rose so fast in Illinois.

Essentially, BO had a kingmaker the last couple of years he was in the state Senate, and it wasn’t difficult for BO to get most legislation passed during that time because Democrats controlled the House and Senate in Illinois. Not only that, but there was some resentment from some black legislators because, according to them, some of the bills BO had been given had been legislation they had worked on in various forms for years, but he was given the legislation and, according to them, got credit for the leg work they had already done on some of the legislation. The article also talks about how Obama bulldozed his path into the state Senate, and had no real opposition in his run for US Senate, thanks to scandals that knocked down his main opponents early on, and thanks, of course, to the lame candidacy of Alan Keyes.

Some of the info in there isn’t new, but some is, and I think you’ll find it interesting reading. It’s not a hit piece, but instead more of an ‘inside look’ from that reporter’s perspective, and who he talked to.

If you read nothing else today, please make sure to read this piece in full. I’m also going to link to it on the right side column.

Update 1: Regarding Austan Goolsbee, the senior adviser to Obama’s campaign, not only is he a senior advisor, Jim Geraghty reports that Goolsbee also briefly had a blog on Obama’s website. Captain Ed notes that Obama’s site identified Goolsbee not just a “senior advisor” but as a “Senior Economic Policy Advisor,” which confirms CTV’s assertions as to his position with the campaign.

Update 2: More, from Mark Halperin (emphasis his):

Clinton campaign stokes Canadian TV report about alleged Obama Canadian contact about NAFTA.

Segment earlier in the week reported that Obama campaign official warned Canadian ambassador that candidate would take heavy swings at NAFTA, but told him not to worry because it’s just “rhetoric.”

Latest CTV report says meeting was held between Obama’s senior economic adviser Austan Goolsbee and the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago.

Clinton camp holds noon ET conference call to discuss allegations.

Obama’s Plouffe denies reports on media call of his own: “The story’s just not true…. No one in our campaign has said or otherwise implied that he would back away from his position on NAFTA.”

Yet still no one from the campaign will deny or confirm whether or a convo took place between Goolsbee and the Georges Rioux. Now that the Hillary campaign has picked up on the story (even though it implicates here, too) it may just have some wings to it.

Update 3 – 3:07 PM ET: CTV has updated it’s earlier story from this morning:

Despite repeated requests, Barack Obama’s campaign is still neither verifying nor denying a CTV report that a senior member of the team made contact with the Canadian government — via the Chicago consulate general — regarding comments Obama made about NAFTA.

Allegations of double talk on the North American Free Trade Agreement from both the Obama and Clinton campaigns dominated the U.S. political landscape on Thursday.

On Wednesday, CTV reported that a senior member of Obama’s campaign called the Canadian government within the last month — saying that when Senator Obama talks about opting out of the free trade deal, the Canadian government shouldn’t worry. The operative said it was just campaign rhetoric not to be taken seriously.

The Obama campaign told CTV late Thursday night that no message was passed to the Canadian government that suggests that Obama does not mean what he says about opting out of NAFTA if it is not renegotiated.

However, the Obama camp did not respond to repeated questions from CTV on reports that a conversation on this matter was held between Obama’s senior economic adviser — Austan Goolsbee — and the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago.

Earlier Thursday, the Obama campaign insisted that no conversations have taken place with any of its senior ranks and representatives of the Canadian government on the NAFTA issue. On Thursday night, CTV spoke with Goolsbee, but he refused to say whether he had such a conversation with the Canadian government office in Chicago. He also said he has been told to direct any questions to the campaign headquarters.

Update 4 – 6:31 PM: ABC News is kicking a** on this story:

On Wednesday, the Canadian Television network reported that two unnamed Canadian sources said a “senior member” of Obama’s campaign team had called Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador in Washington, in the last month to warn him that Obama would be ratcheting up rhetoric against the North American Free Trade Agreement, but that he should “not be worried about what Obama says about NAFTA,” adding, “It’s just campaign rhetoric. … It’s not serious.”

Both the Canadian Embassy and the Obama campaign have repeatedly denied the CTV report.

However, a source close to the Canadian prime minister’s office tells ABC News that the original communication was between Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s senior economic adviser and an economics professor at the University of Chicago, and Georges Rioux, Canada’s consul general in Chicago, about Obama’s rhetoric against NAFTA.

According to the source, Wilson exaggerated the communication between the Obama campaign and the Canadian official during discussions this week with Ian Brodie, the prime minister’s chief of staff, who leaked the story to CTV.

[...]

ABC News spoke to Goolsbee, Thursday, and who denied calling the Canadian embassy in Washington, or calling Rioux, but wouldn’t confirm or deny whether he had spoke to Rioux about Obama’s NAFTA rhetoric.

“It’s not correct that I contacted them,” Goolsbee told ABC News Thursday. “They contacted me at one point to say ‘hello’ because their office is around the corner but it is not correct that I contacted them at all,” he said.

“I am not confirming or denying any meetings with anyone,” Goolsbee told ABC News, directing queries to Bill Burton, Obama’s campaign spokesperson.

Rioux, who was in Ottawa for meetings this week with the Prime Minister’s Office, told ABC News that he too will neither confirm nor deny whether he spoke to Goolsbee.

Both men live in Chicago, where Obama’s campaign is headquartered.

The Obama campaign isn’t responding to requests for information about the reported conversation between Goolsbee and Rioux.

The plot thickenz.

I’m interested in finding out what the ABC source means when he talks about Wilson “exaggerating” the conversation … and am still curious as to why Goolsbee and Rioux are doing the denial thing. If there’s nothing to this, they would be more upfront, I think. And the BO campaign not responding to requests for more info is interesting – perhaps they are trying to hold ABC News off until after next Tuesday?

This is good investigative reporting, no matter how it turns out. NYT, are you paying attention?

**Sidenote**: I read somewhere that Goolsbee has been advising BO since 2004 – I can’t find the link at the moment, though.

Update 5 – 6:45 PM: Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias has this interesting tidbit of info:

Now what really seems to have happened is that Austan Goolsbee tried to get someone from the Canadian consulate in Chicago to be a bit less worried about Obama. Whatever the details, this kind of ambiguous messaging is likely to recur time and again.

I recall being at a meeting in Cambridge, MA around the time of the 2004 Democratic Convention where John Kerry’s top economic and foreign policy advisors were essentially promising a group of assembled ambassadors that all of his anti-trade rhetoric was just empty rhetoric. This seemed like a typically Kerryish thing to have happen, but it would serve Obama may to try to avoid the same kind of thing repeating.

The Clinton campaign is pushing this story, too (they were quoted several times in the ABC piece). This is snowballing a bit. Will the NYT and WaPo climb on board? So far, this is all I’ve found at the NYT website, and it mentions only McCain’s general criticism of Hillary and Obama on NAFTA, and nothing about Goolsbee.

Update 6 – 7:02 PM: Goolsbee is a self-described “free-market type” – but he’s advising the campaign to be anti-NAFTA? Something smells fishy here.

Bonus – Flashback: 10/7/07 – The Offshoring of Hope: Obama Now Misleads Voters About NAFTA Expansion

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Trackbacks

  • Public Secrets: from the files of the Irishspy trackbacked with Obama's track record
  • 3 Responses to “Just words? Part II (MORE: “FREE MARKET-TYPE” GOOLSBEE WON’T CONFIRM OR DENY MEETINGS W/ RIOUX)”

    Comments

    1. David M says:

      The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 02/29/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

    2. clifto says:

      Great work!