Bill Clinton Nearly Endorsed TPP in Japan Before Campaign Interference

March 2015: 'I think this may [be] problemmatic [sic]'

November 7, 2016

Bill Clinton nearly endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Japan in 2015 before his wife's campaign asked him to edit out mentions of his legacy on free trade.

Clinton visited Japan in March 2015 to speak at a conference celebrating John F. Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy, the president's daughter and Obama's ambassador to Japan, asked Clinton's team to endorse the free trade agreement between the United States and a dozen Asian countries at the event.

"Caroline spoke with our speechwriter and indicated that she'd like WJC to say something along the lines you see here re: trade. I think that this may problemmatic [sic]," said Hartina Flournoy, Bill Clinton's chief of staff, in an email to John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Flournoy, a former union executive, pasted the draft text of Clinton's speech in the email. Clinton's original speech would have hailed the "historic" nature of the TPP and reiterated that the former Democratic president "always considered trade to be one of those ways in which creative cooperation spreads opportunity through borders." Clinton would conclude his remarks by asking his audience to reach an agreement with U.S. negotiators on the auto industry and agricultural subsidies.

"TPP will deliver economic and strategic benefits for Japan, strengthen our bilateral partnership, and deepen our ties throughout the Asia-Pacific region," the remarks said. "I urge you to take the politically tough decisions required to get this deal done."

The draft text also included a defense of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—a deal that Hillary Clinton's opponents, from Barack Obama in 2008 to Donald Trump today, have invoked in campaign attacks.

"I recall the tough decisions on trade issues that I had to make when I was President. I firmly believe that concluding NAFTA and creating the WTO were in our best interest," the proposed remarks said. "We faced enormous pressure from key constituencies who were against these deals. It was not easy, but it was the right thing to do."

Podesta asked Flournoy to scrub the NAFTA rhetoric.

"I'd drop the last two sentences," he replied.

Flournoy, who did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for comment, indicated that she recognized the politically fraught nature of the trade debate.

"I think I'd like to drop the whole piece. Don't know that it will endear him to anyone," she said. Bill's speech did not end up garnering any attention in the American press. A contemporary account from a Japanese media company did not mention trade in Clinton's remarks.

Hillary Clinton faced intense scrutiny over her position on trade from labor unions and liberal activists during the Democratic primary against socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt., I.). She and her team at the time of Bill's speech agonized over how to handle her prior support of the TPP as the "gold standard" of trade deals. Members of the Obama administration, including Kennedy, attempted to pressure the former secretary of state to endorse the deal.

The Clinton team fumed about a Politico headline in April 2015 that read, "White House on trade deal: Hillary Clinton is with us." The campaign said the Obama administration's leaks could cause them to come out against the deal.

"They [the White House] did not want to buy into notion that HRC's bar was higher than what the WH thinks they will get in TPP negotiations," Clinton spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said.

"This probably pushes us to oppose. Really stupid on their part," Podesta replied.

Clinton flip-flopped on TPP in October 2015, though some surrogates told supporters she was doing so to get "labor off her back" and would sign the agreement as president.

The emails were published by WikiLeaks. National security agencies suspect that hackers linked to the Russian government broke into Podesta's email account to influence the presidential election.

Published under: Bill Clinton , TPP