Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Thursday attempted to distance herself from the controversial 12-nation trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. During her tenure as U.S. secretary of state, Clinton publicly promoted the pact 45 separate times -- but with her Democratic presidential rivals making opposition to the deal a centerpiece of their campaigns, Clinton now asserts she was never involved in the initiative.

"I did not work on TPP," she said after a meeting with leaders of labor unions who oppose the pact. "I advocated for a multinational trade agreement that would 'be the gold standard.' But that was the responsibility of the United States Trade Representative."

But at a congressional hearing in 2011, Clinton told lawmakers that "with respect to the TPP, although the State Department does not have the lead on this -- it is the United States Trade Representative -- we work closely with the USTR." Additionally, State Department cables reviewed by International Business Times show that her agency -- including her top aides -- were deeply involved in the diplomatic deliberations over the trade deal. The cables from 2009 and 2010, which were among a trove of documents disclosed by the website WikiLeaks, also show that the Clinton-run State Department advised the U.S. Trade Representative’s office on how to negotiate the deal with foreign government officials.

In recent months, labor, environmental, public health and consumer advocacy groups have campaigned against the TPP, saying the pact is a stealth attempt by corporations to tilt the rules of international commerce in their favor. They have specifically criticized provisions in the deal -- which are secret but have periodically leaked -- that they say would empower corporations to use international tribunals to attempt to overturn public interest laws. The groups represent many core Democratic Party constituencies that Clinton has been courting in her White House bid, which explains why in the lead-up to the party's primary she has suddenly depicted herself as a critic of the deal. But the cables show that the Clinton-run State Department was indeed a major player in pushing the initiative.

In one September 2009 cable, the State Department’s embassy officials in Wellington outline the New Zealand government’s desire for the United States to involve itself in the trade pact. An embassy cable from a few months later says the U.S. ambassador further discussed the TPP with New Zealand officials. In a February 2010 cable, the same embassy said that Clinton’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frankie Reed met with New Zealand trade officials and “engaged on a wide range of topics, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

The cable notes that at the meeting, New Zealand officials told Clinton’s deputy that the country “views the TPP as a platform for future trade integration in the Asia Pacific and recognizes there will a number of sensitive issues on both sides during negotiations.” The cable says they also discussed the TPP’s effect on intellectual property rights, natural resource investment, and pharmaceuticals -- all specific issues that have raised concerns from watchdog groups in the United States.

In a separate cable, State Department officials in New Zealand request an additional employee to specifically “allow the Economics Officer to focus on preparations for Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.”

steinberg1 James Steinberg, Deputy Secretary of State, prepares to testify before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in March of 2011. Photo: Tom Williams/Roll Call

In a September 2009 cable, State Department officials report that Clinton’s Deputy Secretary of State, James Steinberg, specifically discussed the TPP with Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister. 

“The Deputy Secretary acknowledged that that the U.S. was reviewing its position on TPP, adding that stronger support from Congress as a result of positive steps on issues of concern was likely needed in order to move forward on trade issues with Vietnam,” said the cable.

In a November 2009 cable, the U.S. embassy in Tokyo details TPP discussions between Japanese government officials and Robert Hormats, a former Goldman Sachs executive who was then serving as Clinton’s undersecretary of state.

In a December 2009 cable, State Department officials in Hanoi report that the U.S. Ambassador “hosted a dinner on December 21 for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement country representatives.” The cable thanked the Clinton-run State Department for providing “regular updates" that “have been key to helping vus answer the many TPP-related inquiries we receive.”

In a January 2010 cable, State Department embassy officials in Kuala Lampur advise Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis on strategies to negotiate the TPP with the Malaysian government.

“Highlight the priority the Administration is giving to the Trans Pacific Partnership initiative, and the role that the TPP will play in promoting economic competitiveness and trade opportunities in the region,” Clinton’s State Department officials advised. “Encourage Malaysia, when it's ready, to engage TPP members about process and requirements for joining.”

The involvement of the Clinton-led State Department in the TPP is not altogether surprising: in a June, CBS News reported that “a senior administration official told CBS News Correspondent Julianna Goldman that Clinton was one of the biggest backers of TPP.” In a Bloomberg News interview that same month, President Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice disputed the idea that Clinton was not involved in the TPP.

“She was integrally involved in all of the major initiatives of the first term of the administration,” said Rice, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations when Clinton was Secretary of State. “She was instrumental in formulating and implementing the rebalance to Asia, of which the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a part.”

UPDATE: In 2012 speech in Singapore, Clinton explicitly promoted the TPP as an initiative that "will lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region." She also used the collective "we" in describing the work being done on the pact, saying, "we are making progress toward finalizing a far-reaching new trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership." She also said "we are offering to assist with capacity building, so that every country in ASEAN can eventually join." The video of the key part of her speech can be seen here: