Mark Penn, the strategist who worked with Bill Clinton win re-election in 1996 and helped Hillary Clinton with her Senate campaign, left his role as the Senator's chief strategist for the presidential election because the public relations firm he heads, Burston-Marsteller, had lobbied for a free trade agreement that Clinton opposes.
Penn met with Colombia's ambassador to discuss the free-trade agreement, but when the meeting was reported by the Wall Street Journal, he later apologized for the "error in judgment." Burston-Marstellar was then fired by the Colombian government the next day. According to the Washington Post, "Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton, were furious with Penn for going to the meeting," given how trade is an important and divisive issue in the Democratic race. Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams issued this statement:
After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as Chief Strategist of the Clinton Campaign; Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign.
Geoff Garin and Howard Wolfson will coordinate the campaign's strategic message team going forward.
On MSNBC, Barack Obama strategist David Axelrod joked, "The sword is mightier than the Penn."
Even though other Clinton campaign staffers wanted him out after Clinton's early primary losses (some felt Hillary needed to be humanized; Penn disagreed), Clinton still "protected" him. And Penn's clients were troublesome: His firm and subsidiaries represent mortgage lender Countrywide Financial and military contractor Blackwater.
Politico's Ben Smith suggests Penn's departure may help campaign morale: A Clinton supporter tells him, "It was very demoralizing for the staff that's working 24/7 to see him doing book tours and engaging in private sector activities. It was an important statement for the campaign to make to its own team."