Just words? Part III: Obama campaign’s NAFTA wink wink nudge nudge lies and half-truths continue to pile up

I have been closely following the developing story Canada’s CTV first reported on Wednesday in which they alleged that a high-ranking official at the Canadian embassy told them that a “senior” member of the Obama campaign contacted Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson and told him not to take BO’s harsh anti-NAFTA rhetoric too seriously, that it was merely “campaign rhetoric” and that Canada shouldn’t worry. What we’ve learned since that story is that it wasn’t the Canadian embassy that was called, but instead it was a visit that was paid to the Canadian Consulate General’s office in Chicago by Obama’s senior economic advisor Austan Goolsbee.

The story has, thankfully, gotten enough attention to the point that Ohio labor officials have written a letter to Barack Obama whether or not he’s being truthful on his assertions about NAFTA.

I find this story immensely important because it cuts into the image that Barack Obama has crafted for himself that he’s a different kind of candidate, one who means what he says, and one who decries the “politics of the past.” When you put all the pieces of this story together, you find a web of deliberate deceit that would get a Republican candidate in a heap of trouble with the New York Times, not to mention if the candidate weren’t merely a candidate but, instead, a president. Documented below are some of the varied responses received from Canadian officials, the Obama campaign and Barack Obama himself, in response to this story.

First, the initial CTV article noted that:

[…] a spokesperson for the Obama campaign said the staff member’s warning to Wilson sounded implausible, but did not deny that contact had been made.

“Senator Obama does not make promises he doesn’t intend to keep” the spokesperson said.

That spokesperson was Robert Gibbs.

ABC News noted Thursday that Bill Burton, Obama’s national press secretary, issued the following statement:

Today Bill Burton of the Obama campaign told ABC News no senior Obama campaign representative called the Canadian embassy. “The news reports on Obama’s position on NAFTA are inaccurate and in no way represent Senator Obama’s consistent position on trade” Burton said separately in an email.

“Inaccurate” leaves lots of wiggle room, doesn’t it?

In a follow up to their initial story, CTV reported on Thursday:

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.

The Canadian Consultate General’s name is Georges Rioux. On Thursday, ABC News tried to get an answer out of both Goolsbee and Rioux and here’s what happened:

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.

A spokesman for the Canadian embassy denied the story:

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.

But another Canadian embassy official contradicted Landry on whether or not any calls had been made on NAFTA between the two camps:

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.”

CTV reported in an update to their Thursday story:

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.

ABC News contacted Goolsbee later again on Thursday and reported:

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.

Senator Obama on Thursday denied that the story was true:

“It did not happen,” Obama told WKYC-TV’s Beres, in an interview late Thursday afternoon.

“The Canadian Embassy clarified it by saying it’s not true and our office said it’s not true,” Obama continued, “and it’s important for viewers to know it’s not true.”

So you’ve got all these misleading denials going on between the Team Obama and Canadian embassy officials in an attempt to refute the main assertion of the original story that a senior official from the Obama campaign supposedly told the Canadian embassy that his harsh rhetoric towards NAFTA was just empty campaign rhetoric. While it’s possible that the embassy itself was not contacted by Goolsbee, what’s no longer in dispute anymore is that there have been “staff level” talks between the Obama camp and the embassy about NAFTA, and that Obama’s senior economic advisor Austan Goolsbee and the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago Georges Rioux have been in contact with each other, and it wasn’t just to “say hello,” as Austan Goolsbee falsely asserted to ABC. Keep in mind that originally neither Goolsbee nor Rioux would confirm or deny that they had been in contact with each other, and then Goolsbee clarified later to say that “they” (meaning the Consulate General’s office in Chicago) called to “say hello.” Barack Obama confirmed in an interview he did with the Tribune Chronicle yesterday that Goolsbee paid a visit to the Consulate General’s office – and that they did talk about NAFTA:

Barack Obama said Saturday that one of his top campaign officials spoke with a Canadian consulate general representative about NAFTA, but nothing he said contradicted the candidate’s stand on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In a telephone interview with the Tribune Chronicle, Obama said, ‘‘I don’t know all the details but my understanding is that my chief economist, Mr. Goolsbee, was invited to speak to somebody in the local office of consulate general of Canada.”


‘‘If I’m not mistaken, they had a very cordial conversation and there was at no point any suggestion in any way that I wasn’t as serious as I can be about the need to make changes in NAFTA,” Obama said.

So much for “calling just to say hello” eh?

Note the careful wording “if I am not mistaken” and “I don’t know all the details” an “my understanding is” – these are all the words of a candidate who does not want to be called to the carpet for making any definitive statements like he did with his initial denial of the story. His senior economic advisor lied about the ‘call to say hello’ and his initial non-confirmation one way or the other about any meetings between both him and Rioux spoke – and still speaks – volumes. You don’t refuse to confirm or deny something if you have nothing to hide.

Just words? Just speeches? I believe the answer as it relates to his rhetoric on NAFTA – as well as other issues, like Afghanistan – is “yes.”

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