John David Podesta (born January 8, 1949) was the fourth and final White House Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton, from 1998 until 2001. He is married to Mary Podesta. Podesta is the president and CEO of the left-wing Center for American Progress.
Under his leadership, the Center, founded in 2003, has become a notable leader in the development and advocacy for progressive policy.
He is also a graduate of Knox College and the Georgetown University Law Center, where he is currently a Visiting Professor of Law and is teaching classes on Congressional investigations and technology law and policy.
Early Life/Family/PersonalPodesta spent most of his early years in Chicago where he grew up in Jefferson Park on the city’s Northwest Side with his Italian-American father, his Greek-American mother and his brother, Tony. Podesta came from a blue-collar family where his father worked in a factory for 50 years.
Podesta is also known as Skippy, an alter-ego famous for dressing down subordinates who don’t perform. Podesta also trained for a time to become a Jesuit priest.
EducationIn 1971, Podesta graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He attended the Georgetown University Law Center and graduated in 1976. Podesta worked as a trial attorney for the Department of Justice‘s Honors Program in the Land and Natural Resources Division (1976–1977) and as a Special Assistant to the Director of ACTION, the Federal volunteer agency (1978–1979).
Podesta became an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society in March 2006. He remains on the Board of Trustees of Knox College.
CareerPodesta’s older brother Tony baptized him into the left side of politics in the 1960s. They became part of the anti-war movement. Following that calling, they went to work for the Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern presidential campaigns in 1968 and 1972.
He met Bill Clinton for the first time in 1970. They both devoted their efforts to the anti-war candidate Joseph Duffy‘s unsuccessful Senate campaign in Connecticut. Podesta and Clinton then went on to work for the McGovern campaign in 1972.
Following in the steps of Capitol Hill power brokers, Podesta started his career as an aide in 1979. He was counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee at that time chaired by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).
In 1980, while Republicans held the Senate majority and amid brutal partisan Senate confirmation battles, Podesta served as minority counsel. He thrived on the conflict and the political brawling.
Podesta was also chief minority counsel for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittees on Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks, Security and Terrorism and Regulatory Reform (1981-1987).
Podesta also served as chief counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1987 to 1988 under Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
From Discover the Networks:
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, he went on to form a powerhouse lobbying firm, Podesta Associates, Inc., with his brother, Tony Podesta. One of their first clients was Michael Dukakis. Podesta served as opposition research director — commonly known as a “dirt digger” — for Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign. He returned to the Hill as a counselor to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) from 1995 to 1996.
Podesta served as White House Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton. He served in the president’s cabinet and as a principal on the National Security Council. While in the White House, Podesta also served as both an assistant to the president and Deputy Chief of Staff, as well as Staff Secretary and a Senior Policy Advisor on government information, privacy, telecommunications security and regulatory policy.
He is best known for his role in containing the damage from the myriad scandals in the Clinton White House; from Whitewater, to the travel office firings, to the affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky that led to Clinton’s impeachment in December 1998.
From 1993 to 1995, Podesta served as Clinton’s staff secretary — a job in which he controlled the paper flow to the president’s desk. In 1995, he left to return to his alma-mater, Georgetown University’s Law Center, to teach a course on congressional inquiries from the perspective of the “tortured,” as he likes to put it. When Clinton won re-election, Podesta returned as deputy chief of staff and assistant to the president, assuming the role of chief of staff during the last two years of the Clinton presidency.
Clinton and Podesta met during the 1970s as they worked to organize adjacent districts in a Connecticut Senate contest. The fact that he did not have a long friendship with the president might have helped him to forgive Clinton for lying directly to him in the Lewinsky matter. “He has asked for our forgiveness, and I’ve certainly forgiven him, and I think he wants to move on. I think the country wants to move on,” Podesta told CNN in October 1998, two months before Clinton was impeached by the House.
But Podesta’s loyalty to Clinton got him into trouble legally more than once as he became a frequent grand jury guest. During his time serving in the Clinton White House, Podesta managed to suppress numerous federal investigations into Clinton wrongdoing and helped short-circuit the Clinton impeachment proceedings through brokering backroom deals.
He became enmeshed in the Lewinsky matter when he twice suggested the intern’s name as a job prospect to then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, as a favor to then Clinton secretary Betty Currie. A fanatic of the TV show “X-Files,” Podesta joked about art imitating life in his three grand jury appearances. “Was that a trick question?” he bantered when asked whether he was the same John Podesta who appeared before the grand jury the previous week, explaining to jurors that he had seen the X-Files over the weekend and thus couldn’t be sure.
Podesta also counseled Bill Clinton as well as first lady Hillary Clinton during the furor over pardons for financial benefactors during the closing weeks of Clinton’s presidency.
From Discover the Networks:
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.
In 2009, Podesta accompanied former President Clinton to North Korea for negotiations securing the release of two American journalists imprisoned on espionage charges. He can be seen in numerous widely circulated photographs of Clinton meeting with Kim Jong Il.
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.
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 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.
AffiliationsEuropean Socialist tiesThe Party of European Socialists dialogue with the US Democrats and the Transatlantic partnership “was a priority over the last years” (written in 2009).
Delegations, meetings and exchanges of information were held on a regular basis.
After the victory in the Congress, where the Democrats won the double majority, a Party of European Socialists Delegation, led by PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, discovered the new mood in Washington D.C., on 15-18 April 2007. It had meetings with Governor Howard Dean, Chair of the DLC; Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the Committee on Financial Services; Senator Bernie Sanders and with Senator Ben Cardin; John Podesta, CEO of the Center for American Progress, Former Chief of staff of President Clinton; John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO and Andy Stern, Chair of Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The underlying motive of the delegation was reiterated with the need for US and EU progressive forces to actively prepare for the post-Bush EU-US relations. 
Progressive Governance ConferencePolicy Network‘s Progressive Governance Conference took place in Oslo on 12 and 13 May, 2011.
Hosted by the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and organized in partnership with the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), the conference brought together centre-left leaders from across Europe and other countries around the world, as well as over 200 leading academics, political thinkers and policymakers.
The Norwegian prime minister welcomed a number of heads of state and party leaders including: George Papandreou, prime minister of Greece; Boris Tadic, president of Serbia; Eamon Gilmore, deputy prime minister of Ireland; Job Cohen, leader of the Dutch Labour party; Håkan Juholt, leader of the Swedish Social Democrats; Caroline Gennez, leader of the Flemish Socialist Party; Ed Milliband, leader of the UK Labour party; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of the Danish Social Democrats; Victor Ponta, leader of the Romanian Socialist party.
Leading academics, political figures and policy thinkers included, among others: Tom Bentley, deputy chief of staff to the Australian prime minister; Liam Byrne, UK shadow secretary of state for work and pensions; Helen Clark, head of the UN development programme; Anna Diamantopoulou, Greek minister of education; Marco Aurelio Garcia, senior foreign policy adviser to the Brazilian President; Jacob Hacker, professor at Yale University; Will Hutton, executive vice-chair of the Work Foundation; Raymond Johansen, secretary general of the Norwegian Labour Party; Karen Kornbluh, US ambassador to the OECD; Pascal Lamy, director-general of the WTO; Enrico Letta, deputy secretary of the Italian Democratic Party; Matthias Machnig, minister of labour, economics and technology in the German state of Thuringia; Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists; John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress; Andrés Velasco, former minister of finance of Chile.
ACORN’s Outside Advisory CommitteeIn 2009, the ACORN Outside Advisory Committee comprised of John Banks – Vice President of Government Relations Con Ed, Dave Beckwith – Executive Director, Needmor Fund, Henry Cisneros – Executive Chairman, Cityview, Eric Eve – Senior VP of Global Consumer Group, Community Relations, Citigroup, Harvey Hirschfeld – President, Lawcash, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – Board Member, RFK Foundation, former MD Lt. Governor, John Podesta – President and CEO, Center for American Progress, Andy Stern – International President, Service Employees International Union.
Apollo AllianceJohn Podesta serves on the boardof the Apollo Alliance.
Center for a New American SecurityCenter for American ProgressJohn Podesta is the president and chief executive officer of Center for American Progress.
As the head of Center for American Progress, a think tank he founded in 2003 to revitalize the progressive movement by thinking outside the Democratic box, Podesta has been preparing for a Democratic revolution since the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency.
Podesta took a leave of absence from CAP to serve as President Barack Obama‘s transition co-chair, but has no formal role in the administration. He has furthered CAP extensively in both reach and power under the Obama administration. Podesta was hand picked by George Soros and Morton Halperin, according to a March 1, 2004 report in The Nation by Robert Dreyfuss.
Inside sources have 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’s single biggest policy achievement, was the creation of the progressive think-tank CAP in 2003. CAP writes policy papers, hosts ThinkProgress.com and MicCheckRadio.org, which sends out a daily radio feed to liberal stations.
When other progressives were looking to simply repackage their message, Podesta sought to reinvent liberal ideas entirely. Podesta, for instance, is intrigued by the idea of a “flatter tax” that would tax income and investments.
Podesta has written some 40 articles for CAP on climate change, Iraq and the pitfalls of too much government secrecy.
Podesta established CAP to rival the depth and breadth of the conservative movement’s Heritage Foundation and the think-tank, which is entirely underwritten by private donors, has snagged such wealthy benefactors as George Soros, Peter Lewis, chairman of Progressive Insurance, and the Hollywood producer Steve Bing.
Century FoundationConstitution ProjectJohn Podesta is also a member of the Constitution Project‘s bipartisan Liberty and Security Committee.
Corporation for National and Community ServiceLeadership Conference on Civil and Human RightsLeague of Conservation VotersProgressive States NetworkIn 2010, John Podesta served on the Board of Directors for the Progressive States Network, an organization which seeks to “transform the political landscape by sparking progressive actions at the state level”.
Soros ConnectionsOn November 29, 2006, Open Society Institute held a roundtable discussion entitled “How Do Progressives Connect Ideas to Action?“
Individuals and organizations with similarly progressive goals often dilute their power by working alone or even working at cross-purposes. As Americans who are politically left of center move forward, questions of infrastructure, communication, and collaboration are particularly important.
Participants included several key leaders of the “progressive” movement;
Truman National Security ProjectAs at September 8, 2010, John Podesta served on the Board of Directors for the Truman National Security Project. The project is an organization that seeks to recruit, train and elect progressives who will impact on national security legislation.
Roosevelt InstituteRoosevelt InstituteIn 2010 Podesta sat on the National Advisory Board of the Roosevelt Institute. The namesakes of the Institute are Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Historical leaders of the Progressive movement.
Serving as advisors to the Roosevelt Institute are:
The Roosevelt Institute works closely with many progressive political and educational organizations to encourage public debate, promote sound public policy and involve students in the civic life of their communities. In addition, they are supportive of the efforts of a wide range of groups involved in similar progressive causes. Partners include:
Women’s Voices. Women Vote.Political/Financial StancesPodesta carved out a niche for himself at the nexus between technology and law during his White House years. Podesta’s ties to Democratic power brokers are long and deep. His brother, Tony, is head of Podesta Associates, Inc. and has represented clients such as Amgen Inc. and Lockheed Martin. John Podesta is a registered lobbyist for CAP.
Tony’s wife, Heather Podesta, has a separate lobbying practice and proudly sported an “L” on her lapel to have fun with the idea that lobbyists were outcasts in Obama’s world.
Podesta has a very close relationship with ex-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, now the Mayor of Chicago (they are both Chicago natives). He is also friendly with Pete Rouse, Obama’s former Senate Chief of Staff who is a senior adviser in the new White House.
Co-chaired Obama’s Transition TeamJohn Podesta served Barack Obama as co-chair of the president’s transition team, where he coordinated the priorities of the incoming administration’s agenda, oversaw the development of its policies, and spearheaded its appointments of major cabinet secretaries and political appointees.
Podesta is also very interested in the environment, having served on the board of the League of Conservation Voters during the Bush years. He and his brother, Tony, organized a huge rally to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day in 1990.
Podesta was a featured speaker at the March 2008 “Take Back America” conference of Campaign for America’s Future. It was at this forum that he declared global warming was a “severe national security problem” and that President Bush had failed to address it in any meaningful way.
UFOsJohn Podesta has supported efforts from the UFO research community to pressure the United States government to release files to the public. At a 2002 news conference organized by Coalition for Freedom of Information, Podesta stated that, “It is time for the government to declassify records that are more than 25 years old and to provide scientists with data that will assist in determining the real nature of this phenomenon.” When he worked for the Clinton White House, Podesta was in charge of a project to declassify 800 million pages of intelligence documents.
could be updated quickly if we decide to do that, need to do that, … Meet The Press.” Thinkexist.com (accessed 05/30/11)
Publications2008 – The Power of Progress: How America’s Progressives Can (Once Again) Save Our Economy, Our Climate and Our Country