The conference call spin war continues. Mark Penn kicked the day off on a Clinton campaign conference call with reporters by saying that Clinton's renewed focus on national security, the Austan Goolsbee affair (also known as NAFTA-gate), and the Rezko trial opening today in Chicago are combining to create a "tipping point and change in the momentum" in the race for the Democratic nomination.
"NAFTA-gate" is the Clinton campaign's name for this bizarre saga that began when Canadian television reported a senior economic adviser to Barack Obama named Austan Goolsbee met with Canadian officials to assure them that Obama is not as protectionist on trade as his campaign rhetoric suggests. The Obama campaign and the Canadian government both denied the meeting occurred, but a memo proving the meeting was leaked (presumably by someone in the Canadian government) to the American press.
Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, read a series of quotes from Obama campaign members in which they denied in no uncertain terms that the meeting ever took place. Now that the campaign is admitting the meeting took place but insisting that Goolsbee's comments on NAFTA are being misrepresented, said Wolfson, "why should we trust or believe them now?"
The Clinton campaign, probably sounding more assertive and confident than they have on any call in the recent past, also hammered Rezko-gate. The campaign helpfully distributed a memo with all the questions journalists ought to ask the Obama campaign about Obama's relationship with disgraced real estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko. "How many times did Senator Obama visit Tony Rezko's house? What was the purpose of these visits?" asked the memo. "Did Sen. Obama intercede on behalf of Mr. Rezko in any governmental capacity?" The implication was clear: Obama is a dangerous choice; he has not been fully vetted.
The truth is that investigations of the Rezko situation by the press has not turned up anything other than the fact that Rezko, who is definitely a sleazeball, helped Obama expand the plot of land on which his house in Chicago sits. Obama has called the fact that he entered into a business transaction with Rezko "bone-headed," but insists that nothing illegal occurred. Rezko's indictment did not mention Obama, but his trial, which begins today in Chicago, holds the possibility of embarrassment for Obama.