Tony Podesta, Saudis and Hillary, Lobby is a Hobby

 Today, Obama in Erga Palace, Riyadh

EXCLUSIVE: Hillary Clinton Campaign Bundler Is Directly Lobbying For Saudi Arabia

Hat tip Chuck/DailyCaller:

A major Hillary Clinton campaign funder is personally lobbying on behalf of an arm of the Saudi government, federal records show.

It’s been known for months that the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court, an arm of the Saudi regime, has been paying the Podesta Group to lobby lawmakers and federal agencies on its behalf. The Intercept reported the relationship last year. And The Hill reported on Tuesday that the Saudi government was paying the Beltway lobbyist $140,000 a month for its services.

But documents recently published by the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act show that Clinton campaign financier Anthony Podesta is one of the several lobbyists at his firm personally handling the Saudi account.

The 72-year-old is one of the Clinton campaign’s most prolific bundlers, though it would be hard to tell just from the lobbyist disclosure report he’s required to file. The document, filed on March 11, shows Podesta gave $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $2,700 to New York Rep. Gregory Meeks.


But the lobbyist-rainmaker has bundled a much larger sum of cash from among his circle of wealthy friends and business associates. Campaign finance disclosures show he raised $35,560 for Clinton in the first quarter of 2016. That’s on top of the $130,900 he raised for the campaign last year.

Podesta also has family ties to the Clinton campaign. His brother John is Clinton’s campaign chairman. He served as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff for a time in the 1990s and as an adviser to President Obama. The Podesta brothers started their eponymous lobbying outfit in 1988.

The Saudi Royal Court’s contact with the Podesta Group is part of a sprawling effort to prevent passage of a law that would allow victims of terrorism to sue foreign governments which have aided and abetted terrorists.

A recent “60 Minutes” report has renewed interest in claims that classified documents contained in the 9/11 Commission report show that Saudi government officials had ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers. Fifteen of the 19 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia.

According to The Hill, the oil-rich nation, which is considered an ally of the U.S., doled out $9.4 million in all of 2015 to prevent passage of the bill, which is co-sponsored in the Senate by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Democrat and Republican, respectively.

As The Intercept noted in an article last month, the Podesta Group has helped the Saudis manage public relations during other high-profile cases.

Following the execution in January of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the firm put The New York Times in touch with a Saudi commentator named Salman al-Ansari who claimed that the Shi’ite cleric was a terrorist. Nimr was a vocal critic of the Saudi royal family and had called for free elections there.

The Times report reads:

“We are speaking of a terrorist person,” said Salman al-Ansari, a Saudi commentator provided by the Podesta Group, a public relations firm working for the Saudi government.

Mr. Ansari accused Sheikh Nimr, who was in his mid-50s, of organizing a “terrorist network” in Shiite areas in eastern Saudi Arabia and compared him to a Qaeda ideologue who sanctioned the killing of security forces.

The Saudis have hired several other firms besides the Podesta Group, including BGR Group, DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. They have also threatened to use the power of the purse to quash the 9/11 bill. The royal family has reportedly told U.S. officials that it will sell off $750 billion in U.S. Treasuries if the law is passed. The Obama administration has said it opposes such a bill because it will open Americans up to legal problems overseas.

While Clinton has said she supports Schumer’s bill she has not made its passage a priority on the campaign trail, even as she’s been campaigning in New York, where the 9/11 terrorists slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center.

During an interview with her friend George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “The Week” on Sunday Clinton said that she did not know anything about Schumer’s legislation. But after some quick criticism, her campaign scrambled to release a statement saying that she did back the measure.

On Monday while campaigning with Schumer, Clinton said she supported the bill. But she was less clear on whether she believes that the Obama administration should declassify the 28 pages contained in the 9/11 report that reportedly show links between the hijackers and the Saudi government.

“I think the administration should take a hard look at them and determine whether that should be done consistent with national security,” Clinton said.

(RELATED: Hillary Clinton Softens Position On Declassifying 28 Pages In 9/11 Report)

That’s a not-so-subtle shift from 2003 when, as a New York senator, Clinton signed a letter with other senators demanding that President George W. Bush declassify the pages.

Clinton has other financial ties to the Saudis. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has donated between $10 million and $25 million to Clinton’s family charity, the Clinton Foundation. Another group called Friends of Saudi Arabia has given the Clinton Foundation between $1 million and $5 million. And two members of the Saudi royal family have given a total of between $200,000 and $500,000 to the organization.

***** Obama and the Saudis, The Long Divorce

WashingtonInstitute: Obama will meet King Salman in Riyadh on April 20, during what will likely be his final trip to Saudi Arabia during his presidency. Such meetings between national leaders are usually used for discussions about common interests rather than detailed agendas. The common question is: Are the allies on the same metaphorical page? But with the United States and Saudi Arabia today, it will be more interesting to see whether they can plausibly suggest they are still reading from the same book.

Although the upcoming visit is being touted as an effort in alliance-building, it will just as likely highlight how far Washington and Riyadh have drifted apart in the past eight years. For Obama, the key issue in the Middle East is the fight against the Islamic State: He wants to be able to continue to operate with the cover of a broad Islamic coalition, of which Saudi Arabia is a prominent member. For the House of Saud, the issue is Iran. For them, last year’s nuclear deal does not block Iran’s nascent nuclear status — instead, it confirms it. Worse than that, Washington sees Iran as a potential ally in the fight against the Islamic State. In the words of one longtime Washington-based observer: “Saudi Arabia wanted a boyfriend called the United States. The United States instead chose Iran. Saudi Arabia is beyond jealousy.”

Despite the possible pitfalls, both sides will have assembled lists of “asks” for the visit. These will probably be expressed in side meetings, given the king’s increasing delegation of his powers to Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, known as MbN, and particularly his son, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, aka MbS. Besides the Islamic State and Iran, the topics are likely to include Yemen, where the kingdom is increasingly bogged down, though there is hope for peace talks. The crucial interlocutor will be MbS, the 30-year-old who is increasingly expected to become king sooner rather than later — though the notional succession currently in place would first hand the crown to his cousin, MbN. MbS is known for touting his vision of a modernized Saudi Arabia with an economy that has moved beyond oil.

Obama’s attitude toward Saudi Arabia does not seem to have changed since his 2002 speech, and his comments about the kingdom’s rulers will be an elephant in the room during these talks. The president’s criticism of America’s “so-called allies” is a recurring theme in Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover story for the Atlantic, “The Obama Doctrine.” The 19,000-word article begins with Obama’s retreat from his “red line” after Bashar al-Assad’s forces used sarin gas against civilians in 2013 — an event that shocked U.S. allies in the Middle East and forced them to reconsider what U.S. security guarantees actually meant, but which the president described as a decision that made him “very proud.”

Why Obama decided to give the interview now — rather than, say, in April 2017 — is a mystery to many, who see it as damaging his diplomatic credibility. The profile will cast a dark cloud over Obama’s meetings in Riyadh and make the platitudes of his public statements less convincing. Counterterrorism cooperation, for instance, will be a key element in the talks — but in the Atlantic, Obama questioned “the role that America’s Sunni Arab allies play in fomenting anti-American terrorism,” Goldberg wrote, and “is clearly irritated that foreign-policy orthodoxy compels him to treat Saudi Arabia as an ally.”

When Malcolm Turnbull, the new Australian prime minister, last year asked Obama, “Aren’t the Saudis your friends?” Goldberg writes: “Obama smiled. ‘It’s complicated,’ he said.”

Obama’s skepticism appears to have permeated his entire administration. It’s gotten to the point where Saudi officials fear that the administration prefers their rivals in Tehran to their longstanding ally. “In the White House these days, one occasionally hears Obama’s National Security Council officials pointedly reminding visitors that the large majority of 9/11 hijackers were not Iranian, but Saudi,” Goldberg wrote. When the author observed to Obama that he wasn’t as likely as his predecessors to instinctively back Saudi Arabia in a dispute with Iran, Goldberg continued, Obama “didn’t disagree.” More here from the WashingtonInstitute.




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Denise Simon