Podesta Group Admits Undisclosed Foreign Government Advocacy

Prominent Dem lobbying firm amends disclosure statements after Free Beacon report

Podesta Group founder Tony Podesta / AP
November 28, 2016

A high-powered Democratic lobbying firm has admitted to the Department of Justice that it failed to file legally required disclosures of White House advocacy on behalf of a foreign government, new federal filings show.

The Podesta Group this month amended two biannual lobbying disclosure forms from 2014 and 2015 to note meetings and email communications between Tony Podesta, the firm's principal, and John Podesta, Tony's brother and a former Obama White House official who chaired Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

The amended disclosures came after the Washington Free Beacon reported on the Podesta Group's apparent violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires foreign government lobbyists to disclose contacts they made with government officials and news media on behalf of their clients.

The foreign government advocacy in question was undertaken on behalf of the government of India, a Podesta Group client since 2010.

On August 4, 2014, the Podesta brothers met with the Indian ambassador to the United States in the White House, visitor logs show. At the time, John was a senior counselor to the president. His "portfolio" of work there included issues pertaining to India.

A few months later, on Jan. 1, 2015, Tony emailed John inviting him to an event featuring the Indian ambassador, according to emails posted by WikiLeaks after hackers believed to be acting on behalf of the Russian government breached John's account.

The meeting and the emails should have been disclosed in the Podesta Group's original "supplemental" disclosure statements, Craig Engle, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Arent Fox, told the Free Beacon at the time. But the firm's supplemental statements did not mention either.

In its amended disclosure statements, the Podesta Group noted the August meeting and the January email. It also disclosed three other emails from Tony to John regarding the White House's work on India. All of them were sent after John left the White House.

One of the emails simply sought a phone conversation. "Can you call me when u get a minute," Tony wrote. "Couple of India questions."

In the other two emails, Tony solicited John's input on whom he should contact at the White House to press the Indian government's interests after John's departure in early 2015.

Additional emails show that Tony Podesta served as an intermediary between his brother and Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the Indian ambassador who joined them at the April 2014 White House meeting.

"Tony, Believe John tried to call just now. Was with my doctor and couldn't take it. Could you please ask him to do so again," Jaishankar wrote in a January 2015 email, while John Podesta was still serving in the White House.

Later that month, Jaishankar was appointed foreign secretary of India. In that capacity, additional emails show, he helped John Podesta resolve a dispute between the Indian government and the Ford Foundation, a high-dollar donor to the Center for American Progress, which John Podesta founded in 2003.