Former Hillary aide sought to ‘neutralize’ greens on Keystone

A former spokeswoman to Hillary Clinton worked for the Canadian province of Alberta to “neutralize the environmentalist arguments” against the Keystone XL pipeline, new filings with the Justice Department reveal.

Hilary Lefebvre, who served as the director of broadcast media for Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, was paid $53,725 during the 10-week contract, according to the documents.

The contract was officially signed with FeverPress, a PR firm Lefebvre co-founded with David Press, though disclosure documents say it was Lefebvre who worked on the account.

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Lefebvre, who spent seven years in broadcast journalism working for CNN and ABC's “Nightline,” reached out to print, radio and TV journalists who could provide "top-tier features with cable news amplification" about Keystone, according to the contract.

“We recommend recasting the debate so that it is no longer perceived as environmentalists vs. Canada, good vs. bad," one contract document said. “In fact, it is important to reframe this as an American issue so that it starts to take on more positive currency in the media.”

The efforts were specifically aimed at drumming up publicity for former Alberta Premier Alison Redford during one of her many visits to the United States last year to rally support for the multibillion-dollar project. The PR firm was hired specifically to book media interviews during a trip in April 2013.

One memo obtained separately by Republic Report detailed efforts to land interviews with Charlie Rose, Andrea Mitchell and news programs such as “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on CNN and “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS.

The PR campaign is likely to raise eyebrows among environmental advocates, who have pushed Clinton to take a stand against the pipeline, which would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

Clinton has repeatedly declined to weigh in on Keystone, saying it would be inappropriate for her to comment since she was involved in reviewing the project as secretary of State.

That stance risks alienating green advocates, who are generous backers of the Democratic Party and would be allies should Clinton run for the White House in 2016.

Lefebvre isn’t the only former Clinton aide with ties to the controversial pipeline. Paul Elliott, a lobbyist for project developer TransCanada, also worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

Aside from Lefebvre’s ties to Clinton, the timing of the contract disclosure could draw scrutiny.

Any person or firm that performs PR, advocacy or consulting work for a foreign government, state-owned corporation or international business is required to file paperwork to DOJ within 10 days of signing a contract.

The contract with the government of Alberta was signed on March 15, 2013, and lasted until June 2013 but appeared in a Justice Department database for the first time on Tuesday.

FeverPress did not respond to a request for comment about the DOJ filing.

The Justice Department, which rarely prosecutes violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), did not respond to an inquiry about whether it urged the disclosure from FeverPress.

The contract documents, some of which are marked “PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL” and “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION,” provide a revealing glimpse into the messaging and political difficulties facing Keystone supporters.

“The challenge is that President Obama has championed his commitment to the environment early on in his second term and is beholden to the environmental constituency for their support in the last election. The current debate gives the president little political cover to support the pipeline without looking like he is turning his back on his pro-environment agenda,” one contract document says.

“We do not have to win the environmental argument; we just need to add context and complexity to it so that we can blunt the current arguments against the Pipeline,” the document says. “Again, winning the war here is providing enough political cover for the U.S. government to greenlight the project — not winning over the environmentalists.”

The existence of the PR contract was first reported by Republic Report, which in May obtained the separate documents from the government of Alberta.

Those documents included a memo that the PR firm sent to the Alberta government officials warning that media interest in Keystone might waning due to Congress’s focus on the economy, gun control and immigration reform in the spring session.

“We therefore recommend a slight change in our strategy to secure the interest of our bigger targets (e.g. Charlie Rose, Piers Morgan, etc.), which have expressed initial interest but have expressed some hesitations,” it said.

NPR and Politico appear to be the only news outlets that interviewed Redford that April, according to the DOJ filing.

 

-- Updated on August 14