Friday, February 29, 2008

The Obama-NAFTA-CTV plot thickens. CTV stands by its report:

On Wednesday, CTV reported that a senior member of Barack Obama's campaign called the Canadian embassy 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.

As Geraghty notes, if Goolsbee didn't talk to the Canadian Consulate General, wouldn't he just say that he didn't speak to the Canadian Consulate General rather than refusing to answer that question? Over at the Politico, Ben Smith says that of course Obama and Clinton are insincere about their criticisms of NAFTA.

ABC News also finds Goolsbee and the CCG in Chicago Georges Rioux refusing to say whether or not they had a conversation.

The McCain campaign, according to ABC, is already hitting Obama for this story, and, via Geraghty, Clinton is now going after Obama on this report. Obama's rivals may, it seems, try to use this story as a means of tarnishing the sheen of Obama's "new" politics and argue that this story offers further evidence that this "new" politics includes that double-talking and deception that Obama says he stands against.

UPDATE: Goolsbee now criticizes the story as inaccurate:

“It is a totally inaccurate story,” he said. “I did not call these people and I direct you to the press office.”

The Obama campaign, and Obama himself, have also said the story isn't accurate, but have mostly avoided specifics about the call itself.

Obama's campaign is now offering more strident denials:

This story is not true. 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.

Matt Yglesias thinks back to the time when John Kerry's economic team told some assembled ambassadors that "all of his anti-trade rhetoric was just empty rhetoric"--and believes that Obama would do well to avoid these types of stories.