What is David Plouffe doing in Azerbaijan?
Today, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe is giving a paid speech to a pro-government NGO in Azerbaijan, according to media reports (RFE/RL, Ken Silverstein, and Ben Smith). The journalist in Baku who broke the story of Plouffe’s visit, of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told a contact that she and other journalists tried to ...
The journalist in Baku who broke the story of Plouffe’s visit, of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told a contact that she and other journalists tried to attend Plouffe’s speech Monday at Baku’s Gerb (Western) University but were not allowed in. Plouffe was also scheduled to have a meeting with the president of Azerbaijan.
The visit comes “on the eve of a referendum abolishing term limits which will leave the president in power for as long as he wants,” a former U.S. oil executive who worked in Azerbaijan writes The Cable. “This visit will be represented inside Azerbaijan as a sign of President Obama’s personal support for Ilham Aliyev. …The runup to this referendum has seen the government shut down Radio Liberty, VOA and BBC and also harassing/arresting/beating anyone who tries to campaign against it.”
A White House official said “Plouffe is traveling as a private citizen. The Embassy is not setting his schedule. Any questions should be directed to him.” Efforts to reach Plouffe at Baku’s Park Hyatt hotel were unsuccessful.
Last week, Plouffe sent an e-mail on behalf of Barack Obama‘s campaign organization, “Obama for America,” to promote the president’s economic stimulus package. “Friend — President Obama recorded a video to speak directly to you about his economic recovery plan,” the e-mail began.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani service Monday, Plouffe said, “I’m here as a private citizen, so all I am doing is talking about elections and the Internet and democracy and how to — you know, talk about our election [and] how great it was so many people participated in it.” Isa Gambar, the head of the opposition Musavat party, told RFE/RL “If he is here to meet the members of the government and to talk about the promotion of civil society, then it would be useful for him also to meet the representatives of the civil groups and political parties, too.”
UPDATE: Plouffe now plans to donate his $50,000 speaking fee to pro-democracy groups, the WSJ reports.
Photo: FILE; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images