Like all good liberals these days, John Podesta got his start in politics with the anti-Vietnam War movement by first joining the McCarthy campaign in 1968 and later the McGovern campaign in 1972. But it was in the interim that Podesta first came to meet, know and befriend Bill Clinton while both were working on the unsuccessful campaign of Joseph Duffy, an anti-war Democrat, running for Senate in Connecticut. After graduating from law school in 1976, he found himself in Carter’s Justice Department working in the Natural Resources Division. From there he joined the staff of [mc_name name=’Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’L000174′ ] and perfected the art of smearing Reagan judicial appointees and advising Democrats on the use of the filibuster against them- a practice rarely before seen, but now the norm.
After leaving as a Senate staffer in 1988, he formed a lobbying firm along with his brother, Tony- The Podesta Group- and one of their first clients was an obscure Massachusetts Governor who would go on to win the Democratic presidential nomination- Mike Dukakis. He “joined” that campaign as opposition research director and became known as the “dirt digger.” Having failed in 1988, Podesta was rewarded in 1993 by old pal Bill Clinton when he joined the White House staff as a special adviser. He briefly left the White House to join the staff of Tom Daschle, but returned in 1996 eventually working his way up to Chief of Staff. During this time, he is known for working backroom deals over the impending Clinton impeachment proceedings and became, along with other operatives, a damage control artist eventually gaining the moniker “Secretary of Shit,” a name James Carville said was a badge of honor in the Clinton White House.
This may sound familiar given the current occupant of the White House, but it was Project Podesta that set something into motion. Working with a Republican-controlled Congress, Clinton found it increasingly frustrating to achieve anything legislatively. Project Podesta was a five pronged attack on the separation of powers: (1) use of executive orders, (2) use of White House directives to administrative agencies, (3) government-sanctioned lawsuits, (4) vacancy appointments and (5) selective regulatory enforcement to force the hands standing in the way of policy goals. The most egregious act under his program was the unauthorized war in Yugoslavia in April 1999- a war initiated by executive order. Paul Begala, another Clinton staffer said: “Stroke of a pen. Law of the land. Kind of cool.”
Secretary of Labor Robert Reich was also on board with the program, but he also warned that a future President could use the Clinton precedent to achieve policy goals with which the Left disagreed. Still, they persisted and through a war of attrition they exacted concessions from the tobacco industry and gun manufacturers. But, it did not end there.
When it became apparent that Al Gore may not win the White House in 2000, the Podesta Project’s legal team remained intact and advised the Gore legal team of strategy in Florida. Despite a declaration of neutrality in the developing legal dispute that would end up before the Supreme Court, Podesta was working behind the scenes to do as much as possible to keep Gore’s chances alive. When it was announced that the White House Transition Office would release over $5 million in funds to Bush based on anticipation that the election would be resolved legally by November 14th, Podesta the day before refused to authorize the funds. This delay gave the Gore team more time to muster a legal challenge and precipitate a constitutional crisis that demanded a Supreme Court resolution.
After the dust settled, Podesta returned to his lobbying firm. But, it was becoming increasingly apparent that Hillary Clinton was gearing up for a White House run. She had won a Senate seat in her newly adopted state of New York. Podesta’s attention turned not only to Clinton but the Democratic Party in general. Noting that conservatives had built up a huge advantage in terms of policy initiatives developed through think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, Podesta resolved to do the same. Along with billionaire George Soros, they formed the Center for American Progress (CAP). Their role, importance and influence in Democratic politics cannot be underestimated. This has grown into a $40 billion behemoth of policy production and a training ground for White House aids, staffers and policy wonks. The entire Democratic agenda and platform largely emanates from CAP. And John Podesta was their President and Chairman of the Board from 2003 (its year of founding) to 2011 when he relinquished the Presidency to Neera Tanden, another Hillary adviser. In fact, Soros and another co-founder, Morton Halperin, hand picked Podesta to lead the nascent organization. Despite claims to the contrary, CAP was always designed to be a springboard for an eventual presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton.
However, that pipe dream came to a screeching halt in 2008 when an upstart from Illinois- Barack Obama- got in the way of perceived destiny. Some found it strange that Podesta, longtime Hillary supporter, would step in and help Obama and lead his transition team. But, not really. As President and CEO of CAP, joining Team Obama made sure that CAP policy proposals got a seat at the table. Most of what evolved from that transition- a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, universal health care, and green jobs- are directly attributable to Podesta and CAP. In fact, before a single vote was cast, CAP was releasing policy papers calling global warming a national security threat. Does anyone think that line of thinking came from Obama? It should also be remembered that Podesta was an adviser to the now-disgraced ACORN, a group that mobilized early and forcefully behind Barack Obama.
In part 2 next week, I will look at John Podesta post-Obama and where he fits into the Hillary campaign and inner circle.