Hillary Clinton formally backed legislation to relieve Puerto Rico of billions of dollars in debt after a top Clinton fundraiser who lobbies for the Puerto Rican treasury raised the issue with her campaign chair, hacked emails show.
Podesta Group president Tony Podesta emailed his brother, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, in March 2015. The subject line was "Puerto Rico," while the body of the email asked, "Can you call me today re PR. Need advice not action."
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The Podesta Group has represented the Puerto Rico Department of the Treasury since 2013. At the time, Tony Podesta and seven of the firm’s other lobbyists were pushing for passage of congressional legislation to allow the U.S. commonwealth to restructure its debt through Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings.
The Puerto Rican treasury has paid the Podesta Group $1.9 million since it enlisted the firm’s services in mid-2013.
A few months after the email between the Podesta brothers, who cofounded the lobbying firm in the late 1980s, Clinton officially backed congressional legislation authorizing Chapter 9 proceedings.
In addition to his familial relationship with Clinton’s top campaign official, Tony Podesta is a high-dollar Clinton fundraiser. According to Federal Election Commission filings, he has "bundled" about $200,000 for the campaign.
He has also donated between $25,000 and $50,000 to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, which has been scrutinized throughout the campaign for accepting money from individuals, corporations, and governments allegedly seeking favor with the Clintons.
It is not clear what specifically the Podesta brothers discussed after the email, how it affected the Clinton campaign’s position on the Puerto Rican debt crisis, or what additional communications took place between Podesta Group lobbyists and members of the Clinton campaign.
Neither the Clinton campaign nor the Podesta Group responded to requests for additional information on their correspondence regarding Puerto Rico.
Additional hacked emails show that Clinton asked her staff to craft public statements in support of Puerto Rican debt relief after the Podesta brothers apparently discussed the issue, but before she publicly backed Chapter 9 proceedings.
The emails were among of thousands released by Wikileaks this week after hackers believed to be acting in concert with the Russian government breached John Podesta’s email account.
Congress eventually passed, and the president signed, a relief package that forestalled Puerto Rican debt service payments and set up an oversight panel to devise additional steps, though it did not authorize Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings.