The newest hire for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is a longtime strategist who played a key role in her 2008 primary defeat while working for then-Sen. Barack Obama.
He’s also a Washington lobbyist who lobbied the State Department -- led, at the time, by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- on behalf of the company seeking to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
Clinton's new consultant, Jeff Berman, has followed, in many respects, a well-worn path for those in Washington D.C. He spent a large chunk of his career in the public sector before a stint on K Street, and now he's back again. When Clinton hired Berman for his current role, it was seen as something of a coup, because he's known as a master of the mechanics of the primary process. Buzzfeed, which broke the news of Berman's hiring on Wednesday, described him as “a bit of a living legend in the small world that can speak fluently" about the strategic minutiae involved in winning an election.
Certainly anyone who was paying attention during the 2008 election knows what a better grasp the Obama campaign had on the process than the Clinton camp -- which was due in large part to Berman’s expertise.
But his hiring doesn’t come baggage-free. After Berman left the Obama campaign, he joined the firm Bryan Cave, where he lobbied on behalf of several big-name clients. The most controversial of those clients was TransCanada, the multibillion-dollar company seeking a permit to complete the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Alberta's oil sands to refineries in Texas.
According to public records, Berman lobbied for TransCanada from the second quarter of 2009 through the second quarter of 2011. Several other officials from Bryan Cave joined him on the account. For that work, the firm was paid $980,000.
According to the filings, Berman and others lobbied to help obtain “approval for Keystone Pipeline path through Missouri tracts” and later to “monitor climate change legislation and [push for a] presidential permit process for TransCanada Keystone Pipeline.” (Other lobbying objectives were listed, but they largely mirrored these two).
Berman lobbied the House, the Senate and multiple federal agencies. In the second and fourth quarters of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011, the State Department was among the agencies that he lobbied. Clinton was running the department at the time.
Now, well into the seventh year of the Obama administration, Keystone remains in political limbo. The administration has not yet issued a decision, though agency comments on the pipeline were due in February.
Environmentalists have deep concerns about the pipeline because it would carry a type of oil that produces higher greenhouse emissions than conventional crude oil, and because of the threat of spills in America's heartland. TransCanada has said it intends to move the oil one way or another, and that it’s safer to do it through a pipeline than, say, by rail. The official State Department assessment basically makes the same argument -- that the oil will be burned with or without KXL.
There is also concern about Clinton’s position on the matter. Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the State Department is charged with deciding whether it would be in the national interest to grant a permit to the project. While secretary of state in 2010, Clinton said the department was "inclined" to sign off on the pipeline. On the campaign trail, however, Clinton has declined to comment on Keystone one way or the other. And since then, there have been accusations that she's been the object of influence peddling. Two Canadian banks "tightly connected" to promoting the pipeline have paid her $1.6 million for just eight speeches.
A Clinton campaign aide told The Huffington Post that Berman's job will be to work on strategy, helping to count delegates as the team charts out the primary, and that he will not be playing a policy adviser role.