Penn Out As Clinton Senior Strategist

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New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will now rely on her communications chief to formulate her presidential campaign.

This decision came Sunday after it was disclosed that one of her senior strategist's met with Columbian officials about a free trade agreement that Clinton opposes.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Mark Penn, who serves as chief executive of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, met with Colombian officials March 31 to help craft strategy to move the Colombian free trade agreement through Congress. Clinton opposes such a deal. Penn later issued a statement apologizing for the meeting, calling it an "error in judgment."

However, the apology wasn't enough. Aides said both Hillary and Bill Clinton were angry upon hearing of the meeting. Penn was quickly asked to resign. He had reportedly promised not to work for controversial clients.

Communications director Howard Wolfson and pollster Geoff Garin will direct the campaign's message and strategic efforts for the campaign going forward, said campaign manager Maggie Williams. She said Penn will continue "to provide polling and advice to the campaign."

Clinton now trails Barack Obama in delegates. She faces a must-win primary in Pennsylvania April 22 and nine other primaries. The senator and former First Lady's challenge will be to persuade some 800 superdelegates to back her despite the numbers in Obama's favor.

Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who had been a spokesman in John Edwards' campaign, said Penn's departure was needed.

"The worst kept secret in the whole Democratic race was that Penn's campaign strategy was not working and that the Clinton campaign has unfortunately paid the price," Kofinis said. "The truth is this is the best move the Clinton campaign could have made and something that I imagine most Clinton supporters wished had happened months ago."

Penn had pushed Clinton to adopt a issue-based campaign that stressed her "strength and experience." But he managed to overlook voters' desire for fundamental political change, which rival Obama has been able to capitalize on.

The Colombian government announced Saturday it had fired Burson-Marsteller after Penn apologized for meeting with its representatives, saying his statement conveyed a "lack of respect" for the country.

Source: The Associated Press

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