High-profile Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, whose firm collapsed under scrutiny during the Mueller investigation, has been hired by Huawei amid China’s bid to change the Biden administration’s stance toward the Chinese telecommunications giant.
Huawei, previously deemed a national security threat, has ramped up its influence efforts in the United States this year, with Senate lobbying disclosures showing it spent $180,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of 2021 and $1.06 million in lobbying in the second quarter ending in June.
Initial reporting on Podesta’s hiring indicated he would work to advance a number of Huawei’s priorities in the nation’s capital but that specifics were still being figured out. Another report said Podesta was still deciding whether to register under Congress’s disclosure rules or the more stringent foreign lobbying requirements of the Justice Department.
Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, a former White House counsel to President Barack Obama, chairman of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, and current head of the left-wing Center for American Progress. John Podesta is close to members of the Biden administration.
Tony Podesta has done work on China’s behalf in the past, with his Podesta Group lobbying disclosure filings from 2016 showing he did work for the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, which the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said has “ties to the Chinese government” and “involvement in influence operations” by the Chinese Communist Party.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in July 2020 that Huawei is “an arm of the CCP’s surveillance state that censors political dissidents and enables mass internment camps in Xinjiang and the indentured servitude of its population shipped all over China” and that “certain Huawei employees provide material support to the CCP regime that commits human rights abuses.”
U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Huawei and other Chinese companies are working hand-in-hand with the ruling Chinese Communist Party, potentially giving China‘s surveillance state access to hardware and networks around the world.
The Bureau of Industry and Security amended its foreign-produced direct product rule in May 2020 to “target Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors that are the direct product of certain U.S. software and technology” and, in August 2020, announced even broader restrictions.
Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested by Canadian authorities in December 2018 at the request of the U.S. and charged with bank fraud and wire fraud as well as conspiracy to commit both.
The Podesta Group, which was once one of the biggest lobbying firms in the country, fell apart amid the investigation into foreign influence in the 2016 election run by special counsel Robert Mueller. Podesta was recently granted roughly $43,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program aimed at helping small businesses harmed during the coronavirus pandemic.
The head of DOJ’s FARA Unit, Heather Hunt, sent a letter to the Podesta Group’s lawyers in 2017, saying that the firm had failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for its representation of the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, stating that “the ECFMU acted as an intermediary between Ukraine and the West to promote Ukraine’s political and economic interests.”
But Podesta was alerted in September 2019 that prosecutors in New York had closed the federal investigation into his organization’s work in Ukraine.
Paul Manafort and his right-hand man, Rick Gates, served as Trump’s campaign chairman and deputy campaign chairman and were charged in Mueller’s investigation in October 2017 with a host of tax and financial crimes, as well as with working as unregistered foreign lobbyists on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his Kremlin-friendly political party. Podesta’s group in Ukraine was also tied to Yanukovych, but he was never charged with a crime.
Tony Podesta’s current business website touts his “unique mastery” of “how Washington works.”
“If you want something done in Washington, DC, you go to Tony Podesta,” it states.