Legal expert: Podesta Group ran afoul of foreign agent disclosure rules
A veteran Democratic lobbyist failed to notify the Department of Justice of high-level influence work on behalf of a foreign government that involved the future chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, public records show.
On August 4, 2014, John Podesta, then a counselor to President Obama, met with his brother Tony in the West Wing. As chairman of the Podesta Group, Tony lobbies on behalf of the government of India.
Joining them at the meeting were Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, then the Indian ambassador to the United States, and Taranjit Sandhu, the Indian embassy’s deputy chief of mission, according to White House visitor logs.
Lobbying firms that represent foreign governments and political parties are required to file periodic reports disclosing their interactions with U.S. media and public officials, but the Podesta Group’s “supplemental” disclosure statement for the second half of 2014 made no mention of the White House meeting.
That is a violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) governing foreign government lobbyists, according to Craig Engle, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Arent Fox and the founder of its political law practice.
“If you are on a White House [visitor] log you must be on a FARA supplemental,” Engle told the Free Beacon in an email.
The Podesta brothers were in frequent contact about Tony’s lobbying practice, according to emails posted by WikiLeaks and stolen by hackers linked to the Russian government.
At least one of those messages also runs afoul of FARA disclosure laws, according to Engle. Tony Podesta emailed his brother in January 2015, when John Podesta was still at the White House, to arrange another meeting with Jaishankar.
“FARA supplemental reporting is designed to capture communications like these seemingly innocuous emails between family members—especially if one member of the family helps run the White House,” Engle said.
The Podesta Group did not respond to inquiries about its apparently undisclosed work for the Indian government. The Clinton campaign also did not respond to a request for comment.
The firm disclosed other White House meetings on behalf of its foreign government clients, including an April 2014 appointment at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building that included Tony Podesta, Azerbaijani Ambassador Elin Suleymanov, and Jake Sullivan, then a top national security aide to Vice President Joe Biden.
Sullivan is now a senior foreign policy adviser on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, John Podesta is the campaign’s chairman, and Tony Podesta is a top campaign bundler and contributor.
Additional hacked emails suggest that John Podesta’s portfolio of issues at the White House, where he advised the president on energy and climate policy, was of particular concern to his brother’s clients.
A few months after John left the White House, Tony emailed him with an invitation to lunch with the Indian ambassador. “Who took over your India portfolio,” Tony asked.
That email came just two days after representatives from the Ford Foundation reached out to Podesta for help in pushing back against the Indian government’s crackdown on foreign NGOs operating in the country.
The Podestas’ connection to Jaishankar, who by then had been appointed India’s foreign secretary, came in handy in their work on behalf of the Ford Foundation, which has donated more than $12 million to the Center for American Progress, the think tank that John Podesta founded in 2003.
“Many thanks for speaking with me last night and your willingness to reach out to S Jaishankar on our behalf,” Ford president Darren Walker wrote to John Podesta. “Much improvement coming from [the prime minister’s office], thank you! thank you!” he followed up the next month.
The Indian government eventually lifted restrictions on Ford’s operations in the country.