John Podesta, national chairman of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, may have opened himself up to a Russian “influence campaign” designed to temper his views of the Kremlin, The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF) Investigative Group has learned.
Influence campaigns are conducted by many governments — including the United States — with the aim of influencing decision makers in other countries to realign their geopolitical worldviews more closely with those of the influencing country.
Some national security experts interviewed by TheDCNF wonder if Podesta may still be a target of Russian influence. They trace the campaign back to his company board membership, in which one-third of the board were top Russian businessmen with direct ties to the Kremlin.
The last time Podesta talked negatively about Russia was Dec. 18, 2016, when he charged in an NBC “Meet the Press” interview the 2016 election was “distorted by the Russian intervention.”
The former Clinton national campaign chairman has since been silent, even as other former top Clinton aides, such as Robby Mook, Brian Fallon, and Jim Margolis have repeatedly aimed high-decibel rhetoric at President Donald Trump about Russian “meddling” in the 2016 presidential race.
Clinton campaign manager Mook, for example, hit the airwaves as recently as Thursday in an MSNBC appearance with Craig Melvin about Russia’s alleged meddling in the election.
Podesta’s silence is particularly striking, according to retired Air Force Col. James Waurishuk, who told TheDCNF, “We haven’t heard very much from Podesta lately, particularly on the subject of Russia’s interference in the elections.”
Waurishuk, who served on the National Security Council is also vice president of OPSEC, a nonpartisan grass roots organization made up of Special Forces and military intelligence officials, claimed it is possible Podesta’s silence is the product of a continuing influence campaign mounted by top Russians who shared board seats with the high-level Democrat at the Rotterdam-based company Joule Global Holdings.
“If the effort is going to be, ‘get the Democratic Party to stop making Russia out to be the evil villains that they are,’ the influence part could be continuing with Podesta, which is to influence him to get them to stop,” Waurishuk said.
Ron Hosko, a 30-year veteran and former FBI assistant director, said that Podesta’s close ties to the Clintons could have been a tempting “influence campaign” target:
As a board member, here he [Podesta] sits on the same board and they become friends. And they maintain that friendship, but it’s an influence campaign. Was it an influence campaign? Well Podesta was going to rise with Hillary. And so, what a perfect opportunity.
Similarly, an American who lived for decades in St. Petersburg, Russia, said Americans there were always aware of being targeted by Russians for influence campaigns.
“Hell, they knew I worked on the [George H.W.] Bush presidential campaign in ‘88 and they worked me like crazy,” the American told TheDCNF. He asked for anonymity because he still conducts business in Russia.
“Of course, it’s what they do,” he added. “The higher level they can ‘befriend,’ the higher is their reward for them.”
Podesta was a star catch. He was White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and was senior counselor and close friend of President Barack Obama.
The advisor’s close associations with Russian business leaders started in 2011, when agreed to join the boards of three intertwined companies: Boston-based Joule Unlimited, Rotterdam-based Joule Global Holdings and Joule Global Stichting, the company’s controlling interest. Stichting was based in The Hague.
The nonprofit Government Accountability Institute (GAI) first exposed Podesta’s Russian links at Joule in a highly-detailed report released in 2016.
Podesta left Joule leadership in January, 2014, the same month he joined the Obama administration. His time on the Joule board coincided with Clinton’s State Department tenure when she was pursuing the “Russian Reset” policy with Moscow.
Two Russians were already on the board when Podesta arrived at Joule. The first was Ruben Vardanian, who was chairman and CEO of Troika Dialog, Russia’s oldest bank.
Later, Aram Grigorian joined Vardanian on the Joule boards. He was Troika’s managing director who engineered an historic merger of his bank with Sberbank, the country’s largest bank. Grigorian currently serves as Joule’s vice chairman.
Shortly after Podesta joined Joule, another top Russian appeared: Anatoly Chubais, CEO of a state-owned company called Rusnano. The company was established by President Vladimir Putin. Chubais also brought with him one billion rubles [worth an estimated $35 million] as investment capital to Joule.
Three of the 10 Joule board members during Podesta’s tenure were high-level Russians.
Chubais also was personal friends with former President Bill Clinton when he became deputy prime minister under the upstart Russian “reform” regime of President Boris Yeltsin that preceded Putin.
Podesta’s Russian connection is also a family affair, as his brother Tony lobbied for the sale of Uranium One to Rusatom, Russia’s atomic agency, a transaction which occurred between 2009 and 2013. The sale gave Moscow control of one-fifth of America’s domestic uranium production capacity.
Uranium One was previously owned by Frank Guistra, another Clinton associate. Giustra, through his family foundation, donated $2.3 million to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton and Guistra together also created the Clinton-Giustra Enterprise Partnership.
Sberbank was the lead Russian bank for the Uranium One sale. And, completing the circle, then-Secretary of State Clinton approved the deal on behalf of the United States government.
Podesta and Sberbank hooked up again in 2016, this time as a lobbyist directly for Russia’s largest bank. He received $170,000 for six months of lobbying work in Washington to lift economic sanctions on the bank imposed by the Obama administration.
The Podestas ignored multiple requests for comment by TheDCNF.