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?
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