Obama Challenged on NAFTA Dialogue

The Clinton campaign this morning challenged Barack Obama to respond to a new report that suggests that the Democratic front-runner's senior economic policy adviser, Austan Goolsbee, told Canadian consulate officials in Chicago to take Obama's NAFTA criticism with a grain of salt because it was part of "political positioning" with voters in Ohio.

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Updated at 2:51 p.m.

The Clinton campaign this morning challenged Barack Obama to respond to a new report that suggests that the Democratic front-runner's senior economic policy adviser, Austan Goolsbee, told Canadian consulate officials in Chicago to take Obama's NAFTA criticism with a grain of salt because it was part of "political positioning" with voters in Ohio.

Obama's campaign has consistently denied it had any contact with the Canadian government about his NAFTA position. But an Associated Press report  this morning cites a memo written by a consulate staffer about Goolsbee's meeting with the Canadians in which the adviser is reported to have assured the officials that some of Obama's Midwest protectionist rhetoric is politics, not policy. Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, in a call this morning with reporters referred to the kerfuffle as the "developing NAFTA-gate story" and cited a litany of denials from the Obama camp that anyone from the campaign had contact with Canadian officials or that the senator was backing away from his trade position.

"Make Mr. Goolsbee available for a full interview," Wolfson demanded. Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton in a statement called the Clinton challenge a "false attack." Clinton is "not telling the truth on this story," and it is part of her strategy to "throw the kitchen sink" at Obama during the countdown to tomorrow's primaries. Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said her campaign flatly denies having any meeting with Canadian officials about her NAFTA comments.

This afternoon, the Canadian Embassy in Washington issued a statement that said in part: "In the recent report produced by the Consulate General in Chicago , there was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA. We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect."

—Liz Halloran