John Podesta Hosted Longtime Patron at White House, Visitor Logs Show

John Podesta at the White House (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
April 2, 2024

White House climate czar John Podesta recently met with the head of an environmentalist group bankrolled by a foreign billionaire whose foundation paid Podesta tens of thousands of dollars, the latest example of Podesta granting high-level access to one of his wealthy patrons.

According to the visitor records, Podesta met on Nov. 16 with Molly McUsic, the president of the Wyss Foundation and Berger Action Fund, bankrolled by reclusive Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss. As a foreign national, Wyss is prohibited from donating directly to political candidates. Nevertheless, Wyss has become one the Democratic Party’s most influential forces, thanks to the tens of millions of dollars he gives each year to liberal advocacy groups and others to help elect Democrats.

The Wyss Foundation, formerly known as the HJW Foundation, paid Podesta $87,000 for consulting services in 2013, according to financial disclosures. In 2022, Podesta disclosed income of at least $5,000 consulting for the HJW Foundation. Wyss was one of the largest donors to the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank Podesta launched in 2002. McUsic has served on the board of the Center for American Progress’s action fund.

Podesta’s meeting with McUsic, a longtime Wyss lieutenant, creates serious ethics concerns, according to government watchdog groups.

"Americans should be alarmed at this unprecedented foreign access and deserve to know how U.S. policy is being influenced by a reclusive foreign national," said Caitlin Sutherland, the executive director of Americans for Public Trust, a conservative watchdog group. Sutherland noted that Wyss once bragged about having "indirect contacts in Washington and in the White House." According to a biography of Wyss written by his sister, the 89-year-old activist has sought to "exert influence through his foundations."

"It looks like this line of access runs right through Podesta and McUsic," Sutherland said.

The agenda for the meeting is unclear, but it occurred weeks before Podesta spearheaded a controversial plan to pause new licenses for liquefied natural gas projects, a policy that stands to benefit clients of Podesta’s lobbyist brother, Tony Podesta.

Wyss has funded initiatives to end oil and gas drilling in Western states. In 2018, the Wyss Foundation paid an undisclosed amount to purchase and retire oil and gas wells on 24,000 acres of land in Wyoming. Wyss is a major funder of Climate Power, a dark money group that lobbied for President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan and other green energy initiatives.

Through a spokesperson, McUsic disputed the White House visitor logs, which the White House releases each month.

"Your information is incorrect. Molly did not attend a meeting at the White House," McUsic spokeswoman Marnee Banks told the Washington Free Beacon. Banks did not respond to follow-up questions. McUsic, who served on the Biden transition team in 2020, has visited the White House six other times, according to visitor logs.

It’s not the first time Podesta has provided access to his associates. In 2022, Podesta took part in a meeting with executives from Galvanize Climate Solutions, a private equity firm owned by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. Galvanize paid Podesta $84,000 in advisory fees in 2021 and 2022, the Free Beacon reported. The meeting was held to discuss a climate and infrastructure fund overseen by Podesta.

There are indications that Podesta’s meeting with McUsic was political in nature.

According to White House visitor logs, Democratic operative Jim Messina, Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, attended the meeting with Podesta and McUsic.

"Though the meeting happened behind closed doors, we can make a good guess at what Ms. McUsic and Mr. Podesta were talking about," said Parker Thayer, an analyst at Capital Research Center, a group that tracks liberal nonprofits.

Capital Research Center uncovered emails from 2015 that showed McUsic sharing secret plans with Podesta, who then served as chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, for a $100 million voter registration initiative to drive Democrats to the polls.

"With another presidential campaign year looming, it seems likely that Podesta and McUsic met, accompanied by a powerful Democrat campaign consultant, to pick up where they left off," said Thayer.

The White House and Messina did not respond to requests for comment.

The nature of Podesta’s interactions with McUsic could be discerned if congressional Republicans have their way. Republican lawmakers have called on Biden to give the Senate oversight of Podesta’s position, which was previously held by John Kerry.

Republicans accused Biden in a letter last month of a "blatant attempt" to "sidestep congressional oversight" by exempting the climate envoy position from Senate confirmation. They say Podesta should have to appear before senators for a confirmation hearing, which would likely explore his financial ties.