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Who is Tony Podesta? Democrat made $1M from lobbying Biden admin on behalf of Huawei

Public disclosures reveal the high-ranking Democrat with ties to Clintons and Obama raked in millions from the Chinese firm for lobbying activities
UPDATED JAN 22, 2022
A Huawei store in Beijing, China (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images) with an insert of Tony Podesta (Tony Podesta website)
A Huawei store in Beijing, China (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images) with an insert of Tony Podesta (Tony Podesta website)

According to disclosure forms, a high-ranking Democrat with ties to the Clintons and Barack Obama's administration has raked in $1 million for lobbying the Biden administration on behalf of Chinese firm Huawei. The telecom giant is one of the many companies facing pressure after President Joe Biden opted to keep many Trump-era policies in place regarding China, and appears to have roped in Tony Podesta to fight back.

In 2020, Trump banned non-American chipmakers from supplying Huawei without prior approval from the US government. Trump's strong stance against the firm, which is believed to be a proxy for the Chinese government earned the former POTUS rare praise from George Soros in March 2020. Another key area the firm has seen its business stifled is 5G antennas after Trump persuaded Australia, Japan, and the UK to keep Huawei out from the infrastructure. 


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A year into the Biden administration, it appears that Huawei is still hurting from those decisions and is keen for a change, which is why they hired Podesta. It isn't the first time his lobbying activities have raised questions as Podesta has a rather colorful history of lobbying for foreign entities.

Visitors check out new Huawei smartphones at the 2019 IFA home electronics and appliances trade fair on September 06, 2019, in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Who is Tony Podesta?

A native of Chicago, Podesta was once considered DC royalty for his lobbying firm Podesta Group. A graduate of the University of Illinois and MIT, he also obtained a law degree from Georgetown University. Right from a young age, he became entwined in DC politics, having worked on the presidential campaign of then-Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1986. In the 70s and 80s, he also campaigned for several failed Democrats including Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale, and George McGovern.

Despite those failures, he founded the Podesta Group in 1988 with his brother John which became a massive success. In 2015, it was reportedly the third-largest lobbying group in the city with a revenue of approximately $30 million. He counted among his clients some of the biggest names in American business such as Google, Wells Fargo, Boeing, and General Electric. Much of that success was built on John's close connections to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, after having served in the Obama White House and as Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff. 

In 2017 though, everything came crashing down after Podesta was tied to Paul Manafort in Robert Muller's Russia investigation. The firm shut after it faced federal investigations for lobbying on behalf of a pro-Russia Ukrainian group, for which Podesta was paid $1.3 million. He wasn't charged criminally though, and therefore off the hook. 

An old photo of Tony Podesta (Twitter)

Work with Huawei

It appears Podesta has learned his lessons from the Manafort debacle, and this time declared his efforts on behalf of Huawei. He reportedly started working for the Chinese telecom giant in August 2021, around the time the USA approved licenses for chip makers to sell microchips to Huawei's auto components business. The move by the Biden administration was defended at the time as not a "huge national security risk". 

It's unclear as of now if Podesta played a role in that decision, but he was certainly compensated that month. For the third quarter of 2021 (July to September), his firm was paid $500,000. He was paid the same amount for the fourth quarter (October to December). Both his disclosures name the foreign entity as several Huawei subsidiaries including Union of Huawei Investment &. Holding Co and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

Since Podesta joined, the Biden administration has made several changes in its stance against China. In September, CFO Meng Wanzhou reached an agreement with New York prosecutors allowing him to return to China from Canada, where he spent three years fighting extradition to the US. In November, Biden held his first bilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, which has been followed by more sanctions and actions against the country.