Podesta emails show how a 30-year friendship fuels Washington politics

Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta’s email has been the subject of a WikiLeaks release for a month.
Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta’s email has been the subject of a WikiLeaks release for a month. AP

A close friendship between the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a senior Justice Department official took on new political significance Wednesday after WikiLeaks published an email it said showed the official was “a mole for Hillary Clinton.”

But a Republican legal ethics expert, Richard W. Painter, said he sees nothing improper or illegal about the relationship between campaign chairman John Podesta and Peter J. Kadzik, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.

The two men’s long relationship, which dates to their time as law students at Georgetown University more than three decades ago, is amply detailed in the emails that WikiLeaks has been releasing in dribs and drabs since early October. The two men are shown arranging birthday celebrations with friends and family and sharing information about the political campaign and the investigation into Clinton emails.

The unfolding of their friendship, including one email posted on Wednesday, is being portrayed as collusion by Clinton critics.

Republican nominee Donald Trump hammered on Kadzik’s ties to Podesta in a campaign appearance Wednesday in Miami, saying that the assistant attorney general “was feeding information about the investigation into the Clinton campaign.”

“These are the people that want to run our country, folks,” Trump told his rally.

If nothing else, the correspondence sheds light on the deep personal relationships that are sometimes the backstory to events in Washington and on the campaign trail.

Kadzik is in charge of legislative affairs for the Justice Department, and has handled inquiries from lawmakers in the past few days about FBI Director James Comey’s disclosure to Congress that new emails had surfaced from Clinton’s private server that required new FBI attention.

In an email to Podesta on May 19, 2015, Kadzik noted that the House Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing that day and a Justice Department official would testify.

“Likely to get questions on State Department emails,” Kadzik wrote. “Another filing in the (Freedom of Information) case went in last night or will go in this am that indicates it will be awhile (2016) before the State Department posts the emails.”

At the time, the FBI was investigating Clinton for the use of a private server at her New York residence while conducting State Department business.

Podesta forwarded Kadzik’s email to six fellow members of the Clinton campaign team.

One of the earliest emails in the 22 that contain the word “Kadzik” is one in which Podesta in 2008 sings Kadzik’s praises to a campaign operative for Barack Obama days before he would win his first-term triumph.

“Fantastic lawyer. Kept me out of jail,” Podesta told Cassandra Butts, the Obama operative. “Wants to help. Think he would be an excellent vet lead.”

Podesta’s comment about being kept out of jail appeared tongue-in-cheek. A former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton from 1998-2001, Podesta also has taught numerous classes at Georgetown University Law Center. He’s never faced serious legal trouble.

In another email, Podesta offered a nudge for Kadzik’s son, PJ, to be considered for a post on the campaign team. “Do you need any junior help in hq or states? Peter and Amy’s son,” Podesta wrote to Kristina Schake, the campaign’s deputy communications director, on May 5, 2015.

Podesta appeared to help a law student of his arrange a meeting with Kadzik in 2014.

The two also exchanged emails around social events and birthdays.

“Hope all is well! Dinner when you are next in town?” Kadzik wrote on Jan. 8, signing off “Peter & Amy” on behalf of his partner and himself. “Grazie,” Podesta responded the same day. “You around on the 13th for dinner?”

Neither Podesta nor Kadzik provided comment, and the Department of Justice did not respond to an email query.

Painter, a Republican who served as chief ethics lawyer for the White House from 2005-2007 under President George W. Bush, has been sharply critical of FBI Director Comey’s announcement last week that the FBI had renewed the inquiry into Clinton’s email. He’;s even suggested that Comey may have violated the Hatch Act, which bans officials from interfering with elections.

Painter said that Kadzik’s use of a personal email account, not his official email, to communicate with Podesta meant that he had the freedom to voice opinions or provide information as long as he did not “divulge confidential Justice Department information to a political campaign.”

The hearing he was giving Podesta a “heads up” on had been publicly announced.

Tim Johnson: 202-383-6028, @timjohnson4