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Collins ad attacks – and distorts – McMurray's Korean ties

Not many congressional candidates speak Korean, much less post a video to their campaign Facebook page in one of Asia's most difficult languages. And even fewer candidates do that when they're trying to win an election in a largely suburban and rural district where Asians make up about 1 percent of the population.

But that's just what Nate McMurray, the Democratic candidate against Republican Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence, did last spring. Several months before Collins' arrest on insider trading charges boosted the Democrat's chances in New York's conservative 27th Congressional District, McMurray stared into a camera and spoke in Korean about his hopes for peace on the Korean peninsula.

McMurray later deleted the video, but not before Collins' recently resuscitated campaign could grab it — and use it in the first attack ad of the race. Released Friday on WGRZ and WKBW, the ad tries to tie McMurray to the sort of foreign trade deals that many Americans hate and that helped get President Trump elected.

The truth, predictably, is considerably more complicated than the Collins ad. McMurray's former boss in Korea said he had nothing to do with shipping jobs overseas. However, McMurray's own paper trail shows that he did help American companies — which were trying to sell their products in a newly opening Korean market — hire Korean workers in support of that cause.

But that's not what the Collins campaign subtitles say. They say McMurray "worked to send jobs to China and Korea."

The ad serves as Collins' first $66,810 ambush against an underdog candidate who had only $81,772 in his campaign treasury as of June 30.

It takes advantage of the fact that McMurray mastered the Korean language when he spent several years as a corporate lawyer in South Korea.

Asked why he decided to post that Facebook video in Korean, McMurray said: "We were trying to build buzz. We were completely in the wilderness. And that video got, I think, 20,000 hits."

President Trump's meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un inspired McMurray to do the video, he added. And sure enough, an image of the portly, bespectacled dictator appears above the congressional candidate's left shoulder at one point.

"To the people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Korea, my name is Nate McMurray," the congressional candidate said in the video, according to a translation by Jean Joun, a Korean-American journalism student at the George Washington University. "We are at a time where difficult problems are approaching. President Kim Jong-Un and President Moon Jae-In, I deeply hope for unification and peace. Thank you."

Collins' sentiments on Korean relations at the time weren't entirely different than McMurray's.

"To think that we could have peace on the Korean peninsula, with no nuclear weapons whatsoever, that is beyond historic," Collins, of Clarence, said on the Fox Business Channel in April.

But that's not at all what the Collins camp had to say once it grabbed the McMurray video and turned it into an attack ad.

The ad's captions imply that they are a translation of what McMurray said when they are not. In fact, the last caption directly makes that implication, saying: "You can take Nate McMurray at his word."

But McMurray's former boss said the ad is wrong in saying that McMurray "worked to send jobs to China and Korea."

In reality, McMurray "was doing just the opposite," said Thomas Pinansky, who was involved in hiring McMurray at one of the law firms where he worked in South Korea.

McMurray had no authority to outsource jobs, Pinansky said.

"Nathan worked in the trenches on the front lines of America's trade battles," Pinansky said. "He would be dealing with different regulations. He would help an American company do an acquisition or resolve a dispute. He was part of the effort to liberalize the South Korea economy to open it to U.S. businesses."

Pinansky, a political independent who donated $300 to the McMurray campaign in March, added that the campaign ad "pretty much makes me sick about American politics."

But the Collins camp defended the ad, saying McMurray worked in support of the 2007 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Collins aides also noted that the liberal Economic Policy Institute in 2016 reported that the U.S-Korea trade deal resulted in more than 95,000 lost jobs in America.

"This is a real video of Nate McMurray that he removed from social media because he didn’t want to defend his efforts to promote a Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that shipped nearly 100,000 U.S. jobs overseas," said Collins campaign spokeswoman Natalie Baldassarre. "Nate McMurray needs a new video to explain why he opposes President Trump's policies that are protecting American jobs and American workers. Hopefully, he’ll leave that video up."

McMurray, though, labeled the ad "desperate" and "untruthful."

"I won't shy away from the fact that I speak a foreign language, that I've been on the front lines of the trade war that's redefining our economy, and that I've been fighting for American workers," he said. "Do you think I'd have the support of the local and national labor community if I was going to ship jobs to Asia? Of course not."

The Western New York Area Labor Federation had equally harsh words for the Collins ad.

"The labor community of Western New York has been working with Nate McMurray for months because we know that he’s fighting for good-paying jobs right here in Western New York," said Richard Lipsitz, the labor group's president. "We know what this is: fear-mongering, big-money politics from Chris Collins, a man who hasn't lifted a finger to help working people in this community."

The Collins ad also says McMurray "helped American companies hire foreign workers," and that's true. Among the background information the Collins camp circulated was an essay that McMurray and two other lawyers wrote to help American companies expanding in South Korea to navigate the nation's labor laws.

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