John Podesta is arguably the most important Democratic operative of the past three decades. He was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, an official counselor to President Obama, and now campaign chairman to Hillary Clinton.
He's also a pioneer in the revolving door between K Street lobbying firms and public service, and his brother Tony is a major K Street lobbyist. And hacked emails suggest Tony has successfully used his brotherly connection for his clients' interests.
Some backstory: Back in the 1980s, Tony and John were Democratic congressional staffers until they cashed out to start their own lobbying firm. This is standard today, but it was cutting edge back then. John passed through the revolving door twice more, joining the Clinton administration, then rejoining the family firm. Tony still runs the firm. His clients in recent years include General Electric, Blue Cross, Google, Russia's Sberbank and dozens of others.
John and Tony have kept in close touch throughout the campaign. Tony is a bundler for Clinton, having raised more than $62,000 for her campaign as of June 30, and John has headlined the fundraisers Tony has hosted.
The recently published trove of hacked emails suggests this closeness makes Tony more valuable to his clients.
"People approach us and say, 'Can you call your brother and get him to call the president,' and we'll say, 'No.' It's not what we do," Tony Podesta told the New York Times in 2010. "We don't do access lobbying." The Brothers Podesta have repeatedly issued such denials.
The email trail suggests otherwise.
Tony, for instance, emailed John in June 2014 asking John for help with a client issue while John held a top White House post. The issue was a bill President Obama was to sign on June 10, 2014-H.R. 1726, which awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to an infantry unit from Puerto Rico, known as the Borinqueneers. The problem, it seems, was that Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate to Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, was set to appear on stage for the signing ceremony, while Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla was not invited.
Pierluisi was a rival to Padilla, a vulnerable incumbent. (Pierluisi is now running to replace Padilla, who in turn announced he would not seek another term.) "Agnew invited PR gov to bill signing tomorrow am," Tony wrote John on June 9, referring to White House aide David Agnew, co-chair of the President's Puerto Rico task force. "But pierluisi is on stage as cosponsor[.] Gov got bill thru senate but got stiffed at signing[.] Help? Advice?"
Puerto Rico's government was a lobbying client of Podesta at the time, lobbying filings show. Tony Podesta was on of the registered lobbyists on the account.
The trove of hacked emails do not show a John Podesta response, but official photos of the event show Padilla right there on stage, three people away from the president.
The White House wouldn't answer queries about how Padilla got on stage, instead referring me to a general White House statement refusing to comment on the hacked emails. Tony Podesta didn't respond to repeated email queries.
The hacked emails show regular communication between the lobbyist brother and the Clinton-Obama brother.
Tony emailed John in April 2015 to note an investigative reporter laying out the connections between Bill Clinton's speaking fees and the Wall Streeters lobbying Hillary Clinton at State. "Goldman Paid Bill Clinton $200,000 For Speech Before Bank Lobbied Hillary Clinton," was the headline at the International Business Times.
"Your friend David Sirota being helpful as always," Tony groused in an email to John.
Most of the emails amongst the brothers involved their shared apartment in New York, which they listed — whether for rent or sale is unclear — in early 2016. Some involve UFOs (a hobby of John's) and many involve cooking.
In late 2015, the brothers traded emails about setting up a fundraiser for Clinton. Tony hosted the brunch at his home in February, a Facebook page suggests.
In another noteworthy intersection of the Obama administration and K Street involved the nascent political campaign of John's daughter Megan Rouse. Rouse, an appointee on a local school board in California, was running for a full term in 2014. John Podesta, then counselor to Obama, emailed lobbyist Jim Davidson, at K Street lobbying firm Polsinelli Shughart for help.
"While you probably aren't too vested in the outcome of local California school board races," John wrote, "we hope you can support her candidacy, even at a modest level, as she begins her career as an elected official. Good to get in on the ground floor."
Davidson said he would attend the fundraiser, held at Tony's home. At the time Davidson's lobbying clients included Disney, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, CBS, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and many others.
So the president's closest confidant was throwing a fundraiser at the home of his lobbyist brother, soliciting donations from other K Street lobbyists.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.