Podesta, who Politico reports will serve as an all-purpose lobbyist for the company in Washington, will have his work cut out for him. The president has taken a hardline stance against the controversial Chinese company.
Huawei was designated a national security threat by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year because of its “close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s military apparatus,” according to former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
“We cannot and will not allow the Chinese Communist Party to exploit network vulnerabilities and compromise our critical communications infrastructure,” Pai also said last year.
Podesta will work to advance a variety of the company’s goals in Washington, according to one of the people. He declined to comment. A spokesperson for Huawei also declined to comment.
Huawei faces a host of challenges in Washington. In February 2020, the Justice Department charged the company with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO — a key DOJ tool for going after organized crime. DOJ alleged that Huawei helped Iran’s authoritarian government build out its domestic surveillance capabilities and tried to secretly do business in North Korea.
The Justice Department has also brought charges against the company’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou. She was arrested in Canada, where she is fighting extradition to the U.S. Huawei and Meng maintain their innocence. Huawei has said the accusations are an effort to “irrevocably damage” its reputation and business, as CNBC reported.
Podesta’s return to lobbying also marks an effort to rebuild his career after he was forced to out of the lobbying game. He was ensnared in the Mueller investigation for allegedly not properly disclosing his lobbying on behalf of Ukranian interests in work with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Podesta was never charged but ceased his D.C. work.
Manafort and Podesta both made millions together as unregistered agents on a pro-Russia project in Ukraine. While Podesta had the uncanny foresight to retroactively file as a foreign agent in April 2017, Manafort did not, and was subsequently found guilty of tax fraud, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud.
One week after Mueller announced he was targeting Manafort and an unnamed “Company B” in October, Podesta resigned from his position as chairman of the Podesta Group, which he co-founded with his brother Tony in 1988.
The FCC doubled down on its designation of Huawei as a threat this year under the Biden administration. And President Biden has taken a tough stance against Huawei, especially on its efforts to help install 5G equipment in U.S.-allied countries.
“Telecommunications equipment made by untrusted vendors is a threat to the security of the U.S. and our allies,” a Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) spokesperson told FOX Business earlier this month. That bureau is housed within the Department of Commerce.
“We will ensure that American telecommunications networks do not use equipment from untrusted vendors and will work with allies to secure their telecommunications networks and make investments to expand the production of telecommunications equipment by trusted U.S. and allied companies,” the spokesperson also said. “Huawei’s ties to China’s military, human rights abuses, and theft of intellectual property are a source of deep concern, and the U.S. government is committed to taking regulatory action to ensure our policies reflect that concern.”
Neither Podesta nor Huawei immediately responded to requests for comment.
Podesta, who has long been a creature of Democratic politics in Washington and whose brother was also former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, could be in a unique position to wield influence among the president’s top aides.
Democratic politics has moved to the left in recent years and young progressives are taking over in many places. But Biden’s inner circle still consists mainly of the party’s old guard who will know Tony Podesta from their time in the Obama and Clinton administrations.
After Biden took the White House Podesta, who had been subsisting on income from his art collection, told the New York Times earlier this month that he is interested in working again.
According to the Politico report, “Podesta is expected to soon pick up more clients. He has known President Joe Biden for decades and is friendly with a number of his advisers. Podesta also lives down the street from former President Barack Obama in the glitzy D.C. neighborhood of Kalorama. His brother John was a counselor for Obama as well as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.”
“I don’t want to recreate what I had, but I sort of miss working, and art alone doesn’t sustain me, because I love politics,” he told The Times.
Let’s see if the ol’ Podesta magic can help Huawei worm its way into the Biden administration’s good graces. ✪