Opinion: John Podesta: Stealth player in North Korean release?


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You can see him in the footage, standing next to former President Clinton as they met with North Korean officials, over his shoulder as they returned from North Korea on a successful mission to free U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling. Studious and unobtrusive, John Podesta is the consummate inside player, a marathoner known for his discipline -- and his cooking.

He was Clinton’s White House chief of staff. He was co-chair of President Obama‘s transition team. These days he’s president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank based in Washington. His brother, Tony Podesta, heads Podesta Group, the fasting growing lobbying firm on K Street. So he’s, like, connected.


What role did he play in the just-completed rescue?

For one thing, Podesta added gravitas to the delegation. Bill Clinton is an international rock star, and the U.S. government provided security and a big Air Force jet. But, officially, this was an unofficial visit. So Clinton -- perhaps at the suggestion of his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- added some heft to give it some quasi-official standing. Also on the manifest: David Straub, a Stanford professor who used to head of the Korea desk at the State Department; longtime Clinton aide Douglas J. Band; Justin Cooper from Clinton’s charitable foundation; and Podesta.

Elsewhere it was reported that Podesta appeared in court in Pyongyang on behalf of the journalists. If true, that would suggest he played a role in obtaining the pardon for the two journalists, who were taken prisoner while working on a TV documentary about human trafficking along the Chinese-North Korean border.

Whatever role he played, Podesta’s trip apparently came as a surprise to staffers at the center. One said he thought Podesta was on vacation in Truckee, Calif.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photos, from top: John Podesta stands to the right of former President Clinton as Clinton meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in a TV news image; Podesta served as Clinton’s White House chief of staff. Credits: Associated Press; White House

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