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John Podesta: Stealth player in North Korean release?


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?

Podesta 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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The Clinton’s going to North Korea to save these two journalist is the biggest PR joke. There are other Americans around the world being held hostage (Iran). All this is the Clinton's again using PR to get Mrs. Clinton into the white house. Notice Mrs. Clinton always refer to policy to the Obama Administration and not our government policy.

Wake up people!

P.S. if people tell you not to visit a hostile country. Don't DON'T GO THERE!!!! DA

Come on, everybody's been reporting since about 7 a.m. that the Boeing 737 that Clinton flew was donated by Steve Bing, one of his funders. It clearly wasn't a government plane.

President Clinton and his elite group did a fantastic job in securing the release of the 2 Americans. America has been seen as an antagonist by many countries as a result of the righties ruling with their guns instead of their brains. If Bush were in office, this incident would have been excuse in starting WWIII. President Clinton demonstrated what the outside world loved about the US - resolving issues using simple conversation and compassion.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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