Students of scandal took note last month when President Biden announced the appointment of one of the dirtiest figures in presidential politics as his clean energy czar. John Podesta, the White House said, would step in as “Senior Adviser to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation,” overseeing the new Inflation Reduction Act’s “expansive” energy and climate provisions. Expansive it is. Podesta is now in charge of a $370 billion pot of federal cash and incentives approved under the new law. History suggests he will not be shy in deploying the federal funds to reward Democratic Party allies, punish opponents, and protect Joe Biden.
Protecting his president has always been John Podesta’s real job. As far back as the Bill Clinton presidency, Podesta ran the cover-up of the “Travel Office affair”—a failed attempt by Hillary Clinton to fire the staff of the White House Travel Office and replace them with Clinton cronies. This was serious business. The Travel Office staff were mid-level federal employees, not presidential appointees, and livelihoods were immediately cut off. Thanks to Mrs. Clinton, the director the Travel Office was indicted on embezzlement charges and left to twist in the wind for more than two years, until a jury swiftly acquitted him of all charges. A Podesta-led White House review of the affair “proved to be nothing more than a whitewash,” a later investigation concluded. Mrs. Clinton denied having anything to do with the firings but an independent counsel report on the Travel Office affair concluded she had provided “factually false” testimony in the case.
Podesta had demonstrated loyalty and was rewarded. He was promoted to deputy White House chief of staff, where he played important roles in the Whitewater scandal. A White House “task list” noted the “Podesta damage control effort” in Whitewater. In 1998, he was named chief of staff and helped manage the Clinton defense in the Monica Lewinsky debacle, impeachment, and a scandal over presidential pardons.
Pre-Clinton, Podesta served as a Capitol Hill aide in a variety of positions in the 1980s. In 1988, he and his brother, Tony Podesta, founded the lobbying group Podesta Associates, an unremarkable presence on the Washington scene until John Podesta joined the Clinton White House. By the end of the 1990s, Tony Podesta was a major Washington power broker. By 2011, he was reporting earnings of more than $24 million.
By 2017, he was, seemingly, finished. Entangled in a sector of the sprawling Robert Mueller probe that was investigating Ukrainian money linked to U.S. lobbyists, Tony Podesta dissolved his lucrative lobbying empire and retired.
But Mueller never charged Podesta. And last year, Podesta unretired and returned to the lobbying business, now representing foreign companies linked to Libya, China, and Bulgaria.
John Podesta prospered too. In 2003, with the Democrats out of the White House, he cemented his position as a leading party figure by founding the influential Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank that quickly became an incubator for progressive politics and personnel. He returned to the White House in 2014 as a counselor to Barack Obama for energy and environmental issues.
In 2016, he signed on as chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. When Wikileaks released over 20,000 Podesta emails obtained from hackers who had penetrated the Democratic National Committee mail system, Podesta was revealed as the central figure in a seamy web of media allies, political operatives, big money donors, Wall Street figures, and Clinton Foundation interests. With the Wikileaks email scandal, the Washington Post noted, “the Clintons’ longtime cleanup guy” was now “the source of the mess.”
Mrs. Clinton of course lost that election. But Podesta was soon back, this time playing a key role in “the Transition Integrity Project”—an effort to aid Joe Biden and disrupt the 2020 presidential election. “The figure at the heart of the Transition Integrity Project is John Podesta,” Judicial Watch reported in October 2020, a month before the election. TIP “is a collection of professional Democratic operatives and Republican ‘Never Trumpers,’” JW noted. “Organizers and leaders include Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks, Nils Gilman of the ‘independent’ Berggruen Institute in California,” and anti-Trump Republicans Michael Steele, David Frum, and Bill Kristol.”
TIP issued a dire report, widely covered in the mainstream media, warning of Trumpian election violence. In a special report on TIP, Judicial Watch concluded that publication of the TIP report was “an information warfare strategy employed for revolutionary political purposes” that included planning for “a street fight, not a legal battle.”
That’s a clue to Podesta’s true role in the Biden White House. Watch for the old scandal master to play a central role in street fights to come over what is increasingly looking like a 2023 GOP-dominated House of Representatives and a 2024 Trump-Biden rematch.