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Nafta-gate, Take Two

Okay, scratch what I said about Goolsbee and Canada. I still don't think it's substantively a big deal, but between hearing CNN's reports from Ohio this morning, and listening in on a Clinton conference call just now (and hearing reporters' questions on the subject), I think they're getting some significant traction with this story today.

Two things make it problematic for the Obama campaign: 1.) The sudden appearance of this lurid-sounding memo written by a Canadian consular official. I don't think it's particularly revealing--as I said this morning, it reflects what the Canadians thought they heard from Goolsbee; there are, significantly, no direct quotes. But the term "memo" just sounds bad--as though there were some cover-up that's now falling apart. 2.) Certain Obama officials denied last week that there was any contact between the Obama campaign and the Canadian government about NAFTA. That's clearly no longer "operative," as Howard Wolfson pointed out on the call. While the memo story is a little ambiguous on its own--the Canadian official claims Goolsbee said one thing; he claims he said another--the Obama campaign's previous denials will make the press view their current claims more skeptically.

If this story is getting the kind of coverage in Ohio CNN is suggesting it is, it's hard to see how Obama makes up ground there today.

P.S. On the call just now, a reporter asked about a report that the Clinton campaign had a similar conversation with Canadian officials about NAFTA. Spokesperson Phil Singer, who's got the NAFTA-gate portfolio, adamantly denied this. He said the campaign had freed Canadian officials from any confidentiality agreements, allowing them to come forward if they knew otherwise.

To which my immediate reaction is: What is it with these Canadians? Are they running some sort of entrapment operation up there? Why do they keep trying to torpedo Democratic candidates?

Update: I was in and out of the subsequent Obama campaign call, but campaign manager David Plouffe took 2-3 questions about this that I heard. The campaign's position is that Goolsbee was having a conversation with the Canadians in his capacity as an economics professor at the University of Chicago, not as a campaign adviser. Not sure how much to make of that distinction, but, if true, it could at least explain why the campaign initially denied the reports--they wouldn't necessarily have known about the meeting.

--Noam Scheiber