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Obama: Meeting Wasn’t A “Meeting,” Conversation Wasn’t A “Conversation”

Posted Mar 3, 2008 by William March

Updated Mar 3, 2008 at 05:01 PM

After categorically denying it last week, the Barack Obama campaign today acknowledged that economic adviser Austan Goolsbee met with Canadian government officials and told them Obama doesn’t want to withdraw from NAFTA.

But Obama campaign officials said in a conference call today that Goolsbee wasn’t representing the campaign or speaking for Obama, and didn’t say anything inconsistent with Obama’s criticism of NAFTA.

“This was not a formal meeting. This was an informal—essentially a tour,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. “Austan was approached not as a member of our campaign, but as a university professor. ... He was having some casual conversation, and the report on that conversation is not accurate.

“This conversation has been discredited by the Canadian government, it’s been discredited by our campaign,” Plouffe also said. “It’s simply a conversation that did not happen.”

With the Ohio primary looming, Obama has been blasting Hillary Clinton for having supported NAFTA, which many people in Ohio believe has cost the state manufacturing jobs. Clinton, meanwhile, claims Obama has also supported NAFTA in states including Illinois, where it has boosted agricultural exports, while criticizing it in Ohio.

After Canadian television reported last week that Goolsbee met with Canadian officials and reassured them about NAFTA, campaign officials denied it.

“It did not happen,” Obama told a New York television station. “The story was not true.”

Campaign spokesman Bill Burton issued a somewhat more qualified denial in an interview with the Politico web site. He wouldn’t comment on whether Goolsbee spoke to the Canadian consul, but denied the substance of the report.

“There was no one at any level of our campaign, at any point, anywhere, who said or otherwise implied Obama was backing away from his consistent position on trade,” he said.

But today, the Associated Press obtained a memo from Chicago consulate official Joseph DeMora, circulating within the Canadian government, saying Goolsbee met with consular officials Feb. 8. The memo says he told them that Obama’s anti-NAFTA rhetoric “should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.”

The Obama camp now acknowledges Goolsbee met with the consulate officials, but denies the memo’s characterization of what he said, and says he wasn’t speaking for the campaign. They also contend that what Goolsbee said in the meeting isn’t inconsistent with what Obama has said publicly.

In an interview with the AP, Goolsbee agreed with the memo’s characterization that he told the officials Obama is “less about fundamentally changing the agreement and more in favour of strengthening/clarifying language on labour mobility and environment and trying to establish these as more `core’ principles of the agreement.”

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