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The Nation

A Clinton Spy Scandal?

Ari Berman

When news of the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program became public, Senator Hillary Clinton called the eavesdropping "strange" and "far-fetched." In a fundraising email she went on to blast "a secret program that spies on Americans!"

Now her chief strategist and pollster, Mark Penn, may have a spying problem of his own.

A lawsuit filed in New York by a former employee of Penn's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, alleges that when the employee left the firm and started a rival consulting business, workers at PSB hacked into his BlackBerry and illegally monitored his email. The lawsuit, filed in mid-June and reported by the AP on Wednesday, claims that Penn approved of the surveillance.

The backstory is a complicated one. Penn originally sued his former partner Mike Berland and Mitchell Markel in Manhattan court for allegedly violating a non-compete clause with PSB. In response, Markel filed a countersuit detailing the supposed improper email monitoring.

As of now, it's impossible to know who to believe. Penn, through an attorney, has denied any wrongdoing. But it should be noted that Penn sued a former close colleague of his, pollster Peter Brodnitz -- who's worked for Tim Kaine and Harold Ford Jr -- when Brodnitz left PSB in 2004. And his firm threatened legal action when former employees started a "PSB survivors" message board documenting what they perceived as personally abusive and unethical behavior in the workplace.

So the latest suit and countersuit, while juicy and contentious, is not surprising. To be continued.

Copyright © 2007 The Nation

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