Hillary's chief strategist a lobbyist for Colombia

Barack Obama has a big problem with his adviser on Iraq wandering off the reservation, but Hillary Clinton also has the same problem — and it’s no easily-dismissed staffer. Mark Penn, Hillary’s chief political strategist, has quietly supported a free-trade agreement with Colombia that Hillary herself has publicly opposed. In fact, Penn’s company works as a lobbyist for the government of Columbia on this very issue:

Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign strategist met on Monday with Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S. to discuss a bilateral free-trade agreement — a pact that the presidential candidate opposes.

The attendance by the adviser, Mark Penn, was confirmed by two Colombian government officials. It isn’t clear if he was there in his campaign role or in his job as chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, an international communications and lobbying firm.

The firm has a contract with the South American nation to, among other things, help promote congressional approval of the trade deal, according to filings with the Justice Department.

Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates — Mr. Penn’s campaign-consulting firm — received more than $10 million in payments from the Clinton presidential campaign as of the end of February, according to federal election filings.

Well, this certainly puts a new twist on lobbyist influence. Even apart from the specific policy question at hand, why would a presidential candidate have a lobbyist for a foreign government as his or her chief political strategist? The appearance of conflicts of interest boggle the mind. What other countries have lobbyists as high-ranking members of Hillary’s campaign?

In my opinion, the Colombian trade deal should pass in Congress. We have asked for a lot of cooperation from Colombia and pressed them for improvements in human rights, and they have delivered on both counts. We also need friends in South America, with Hugo Chavez becoming more and more of a belligerent. Strategically and economically, the deal makes sense for both nations and would encourage others to make the Western hemisphere a free-trade zone.

However, that’s not Hillary’s position at all. Lately, she has taken to attacking free-trade agreements, especially NAFTA, which she claimed she always opposed. Allahpundit noted that the evidence goes against this supposed life-long protectionist position. Like NAFTA, it looks like Hillary wants it both ways on free trade, and Penn’s efforts on the Colombia trade pact shows the hypocrisy.