- President and CEO of the Center for American Progress
- Former Clinton Chief of Staff
- Former antiwar activist of the New Left
- Worked on the Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern presidential campaigns.
- Met Bill Clinton in 1970 through the antiwar movement
John David Podesta was born to an Italian-American father and a Greek-American mother on January 15, 1949 in Chicago. Podesta rose from a solidly blue-collar background; his father worked in a factory for 50 years.
In the 1960s John was introduced to the antiwar Left by his older brother Anthony. The two brothers worked on the Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern presidential campaigns in 1968 and 1972, respectively.
John Podesta first met Bill Clinton in 1970, when he and Clinton worked together on anti-war candidate Joseph Duffy's unsuccessful Senate campaign in Connecticut. Podesta and Clinton subsequently worked for the McGovern campaign in 1972.
Podesta graduated from Knox College in Illinois in 1971 and Georgetown University Law Center in 1976. He landed a job with the federal government right out of law school, working as a litigator for the Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice from 1976 to 1977.
Podesta served on the staff of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) from 1981 to 1988. Leahy was an early advocate of circumventing the U.S. Constitution by gaining control over federal courts. Podesta assisted Leahy in pioneering the indiscriminate smearing and filibustering of any and all Republican judicial nominees -- a practice previously unknown in Washington.
In 1988 Podesta teamed up with his brother Anthony to form the Washington lobbying firm Podesta Associates. One of their first clients was Michael Dukakis. John Podesta served as opposition research director -- commonly dubbed a “dirt digger” -- for Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign.
From January 1993 to 1995, Podesta worked as a White House staff secretary and Assistant to President Clinton.
He served as Counselor to Democratic Senate Leader Thomas Daschle from 1995 to 1996 and then returned to the White House, where he finished out the last years of the Clinton administration -- first as Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff (1997-98) and then as Chief of Staff (October 1998 to January 2001).
During his years in the Clinton White House, Podesta helped suppress numerous federal investigations into Clinton wrongdoing, and helped short-circuit the Clinton impeachment proceedings through backroom deals.
The Clintons recognized Podesta's talent for scandal-suppression early. While still a mere staff secretary at the White House in 1993, Podesta found himself swamped with so many scandal clean-up assignments that he nicknamed himself, "Secretary of [Expletive]." "He's good at it," James Carville remarked to the Washington Post.
Podesta's most lasting contribution to the leftist cause came through his promotion of a strategy that White House aides dubbed "Project Podesta." This was a system that enabled the Clintons to push through unpopular policies that neither Congress nor the American people wanted. Its implementation marked a dramatic tilt in the balance of power, giving the executive branch an unprecedented ability to force its will on the legislative branch.
Project Podesta enabled the President to bypass Congress through the use of executive orders, presidential decision directives, White-House-sponsored lawsuits, vacancy appointments to high federal office, selective regulatory actions against targeted corporations, and a host of other extra-constitutional tactics.
In short, Podesta showed the Clintons that they could gain by force what they might fail to achieve through legislation. "Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kind of cool," quipped White House aide Paul Begala to The New York Times on July 5, 1998, in response to questions about the Clintons' growing disdain for the will of Congress.
Project Podesta's most ambitious exercise was the war on Yugoslavia which Clinton launched by executive order on April 13, 1999, in defiance of the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.
When US News and World Report first revealed the existence of Project Podesta on November 1, 1999, two Congressional hearings convened to investigate the Clintons' abuse of executive power. But the investigators issued no reports and took no action.
Regarding Podesta's war of attrition against tobacco firms and gun manufacturers, even Clinton's former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich warned fellow leftists in the January 17, 2000 issue of The American Prospect, "You might approve the outcomes in these two cases, but they establish a precedent for other cases you might find wildly unjust.… [T]hese lawsuits are blatant end-runs around the democratic process."
Project Podesta reached its logical conclusion in Al Gore's effort to litigate his way into the White House in 2000. During the infamous 36-day, post-election stand-off, Podesta worked behind the scenes with Gore's legal team even as the Clinton White House publicly declared its neutrality. Podesta bears personal responsibility for forcing the election into the U.S. Supreme Court.
Most of official Washington assumed that the election crisis would end on November 14, when Gore's recount deadline expired and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris would certify the winner. In order to reassure Americans that this would be the case, General Services Administration head David J. Barram held a press conference on November 8, 2000, at which he announced that he was ready to release the $5.8 million in presidential transition funds and to open the transition offices to whichever candidate was certified the winner on November 14. Barram repeated this promise several times via radio and television interviews.
However, on November 13 -- the day before the recount deadline -- John Podesta sent a memo to Barram ordering him to keep the transition offices locked and to withhold the presidential transition funds, thus giving Gore extra time to litigate.
Bush won the Florida recount, as expected. But the transition offices remained locked. Podesta's unprecedented act stunned official Washington and plunged America into a constitutional crisis.
Four years later, when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry announced his plan to mobilize a legal team of more than 6,000 attorneys for the 2004 election, it was evident that Project Podesta had changed U.S. politics forever.
Podesta co-founded the Center for American Progress (CAP) on July 7, 2003, and would serve as the organization's president and CEO for the next eight years. He was hand-picked for the job by CAP co-founders Morton H. Halperin and George Soros, according to a March 1, 2004 report in The Nation by Robert Dreyfuss. Inside sources described CAP as "the official Hillary Clinton think tank" -- a media spin machine and policy generator designed to serve as a springboard for Mrs. Clinton's presidential ambitions.
Podesta was a featured speaker at the March 2008 "Take Back America" conference of Campaign for America's Future, where he declared that global warming was a "severe national security problem" that President Bush had failed to address in any meaningful way.
Podesta also has served as an Independent Advisory Council member of the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN.
After Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, Podesta and at least ten additional CAP experts served as some of his most influential advisers. He was the head of the new President's transiton team.
Over the years, Podesta has made campaign contributions to numerous Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Rosa DeLauro, Christopher Dodd, Tammy Duckworth, Richard Durbin, Barney Frank, Al Franken, Richard Gephardt, Al Gore, Maurice Hinchey, Edward Kennedy, John Kerry, Patrick Leahy, Barack Obama, Charles Rangel, Harry Reid, and Paul Wellstone. In 2002 Podesta also made a $1,000 contribution to the League of Conservation Voters.
In 2010 Podesta authored a report outlining ways in which President Obama could use his executive authority as well as the Environmental Protection Agency to push a progressive agenda on climate policy. Specifically, Podesta wrote that: (a) the EPA could “spur the retirement of coal-fired power plants” -- and their replacement with natural gas plants -- by mandating stricter carbon dioxide emissions limits; and (b) President Obama should use his executive power to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 17% by 2020. Before long, both of Podesta's recommendations were made manifest in actual policy: In 2013, the EPA announced that it was imposing emissions limits that would effectively ban coal-fired power plants unless they installed highly expensive carbon capture and storage technology. And in 2014, Obama said he planned to use executive orders to meet the 17% carbon-dioxide reduction goal.
Beginning in late September 2011, Podesta served one day per week as an unpaid senior advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, providing his input on foreign-policy priorities.
On November 1, 2011, Podesta stepped down as president and CEO of the CAP, handing over the reins to CAP's Chief Operating Officer Neera Tanden. Podesta stayed on as CAP's chairman of the board and became a full-time employee of the organization, focusing on long-term strategic planning and new projects. He said his intention was to focus on "planning CAP's strategic growth, increasing our financial support, and drawing new initiatives into the organization." He added that he would continue teaching as a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center and working "part-time as an uncompensated senior advisor at the State Department."
In September 2012, Podesta joined representatives of 50 U.S. companies -- 10 of which had ties to the Podesta Group, a Washington, DC-based lobbying firm founded by John Podesta and his brother Tony -- on a State Department- and U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored four-day tour of Cairo, Egypt, which was now led by the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Mohammed Morsi. The purpose of the trip was to deliver the message that “Egypt is open for business, and the U.S. business community is ready to invest.”
In February 2013, it was reported that the Podesta Group had just signed a contract to become the first DC lobbying firm to represent the government of Iraq, which had been developing increasingly close ties to the government of Iran. Iraq selected this firm because of its strong links to Democratic Party leaders such as Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton.
On November 15, 2013, Podesta helped launch the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and subsequently served as the organization's chairman.