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Mark Penn apologizes for taking both sides on Colombia trade

April 4, 2008 |  3:57 pm

Mark Penn, one of Hillary Clinton's top strategists and worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller, apologized this afternoon for meeting earlier in the week with the Colombian ambassador to discuss a bilateral free trade agreement.

Colombia has hired the PR and lobbyiMark Penn chief political strategist for New York Senator Hillary Clinton's Democratic presidential campaign met with Colombian officials on a bilateral trade agreement that Clinton opposes but Penn's PR company is getting paid to push through Congressng firm to help get congressional approval for the agreement, which Clinton opposes. We mentioned the conflict, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, in an earlier posting today.

Penn's apologetic statement was short and sweet: "The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated and I am sorry for it. The senator’s well known opposition to this trade deal is clear and was not discussed."

So Penn is apologizing for doing his day job -- meeting with Burson-Marsteller clients -- and presumably won't meet with the Colombian ambassador again on this issue. Was the error in judgment Penn's involvement in the meeting? Or Penn's job with Burson-Marsteller?

What will the firm do from here on out?  Send underlings to meet with  clients that conflict with Penn's role as Clinton strategist? Is that enough distance? What other clients does Burson-Marsteller represent that could lead to similar problems? And will it take media reports to get Penn to see them?

This looks like a headache that isn't going away soon.

-- Scott Martelle