State Department spokesman John Kirby had trouble Wednesday defending the lobbying of John Podesta's sister-in-law, Heather Podesta, and the arms deals that she benefitted from while John Podesta worked as a State Department counselor during Hillary Clinton's tenure there.
Heather Podesta is a well known Democratic lobbyist and bundler for Clinton's presidential campaigns, as are the other two lobbyists with whom she worked on the arms deals. Three contracts for Qatar that Podesta and her associates worked on were valued at $19 billion, Fox News correspondent James Rosen noted during the State Department daily press briefing.
Rosen asked Kirby about the lobbying and if it was a conflict of interest of any kind. Kirby replied that there is a "standard procedure" for such contracts before the United States government approves foreign military sales per law. Kirby said the process involves multiple bureaus in both the State and Defense Departments.
"Statutorily, one official here at the Department of State is entrusted with final approval over these transfers. Am I correct about that?" Rosen asked.
Kirby said that is correct and the decision rests with the cabinet official, the secretary of state in the case of the State Department and the secretary of defense for the Defense Department.
Rosen brought up the process that is involved and how the State Department actually makes such decisions, not the Pentagon.
"My understanding is State approves these transfers or contracts [and] Defense implements them. Am I wrong about that?" Rosen asked.
"You're not wrong, but you're not completely right either," Kirby said. "Obviously the Foreign Military Sales program is a State Department program, but we do it in close coordination with DoD. Having been in that world, I can assure you that DoD certainly gets a vote."
Rosen mentioned how much money the three lobbyists raised for Clinton and how the contractor that those lobbyists worked for stopped its contract right after Clinton left the State Department.
"So the appearance, John, the appearance is akin to one of those pop-up stores that materializes just to sell Halloween candy or July Fourth fireworks for a seasonal need, and after that seasonal need vanishes," Rosen said.
Kirby said that he could not speak to how it appeared with the contract ending after the deal went through and said how painfully slow this process is.
"It wasn't in this case," Rosen said.
"Well, again, sometimes painfully slow," Kirby responded.
Kirby again denied that their lobbying had an effect on the process.
Rosen asked Kirby if then-Secretary Clinton would have been unaware that her department was being lobbied by John Podesta's sister-in-law.
"I cannot answer that question," Kirby said. "I do not know. I would refer you to the former secretary."
Kirby said that John Podesta's role on the Foreign Affairs Policy Board played no role in the Foreign Military Sales program.
John Podesta is currently the chairman of Clinton's presidential campaign.