The Wall Street Journal is doing some heavy background research on a holding company that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta appears to have formed so that he could give shares he owned in a Putin-linked firm, Joule Unlimited, to his daughter.
Transferring the Joule shares to the holding company owned by his daughter would have given him cover to claim that he did not own the shares. Indeed, he declared on his federal financial disclosure form, that he was required for him to fill out in early 2014 to serve as a counselor to President Obama, that he divested of the shares.
The Journal appears to be suggesting that the transfer appears to be a sham transaction to hide Podesta's true continued ownership of the shares:
A former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, Mr. Podesta at the time was running the Center for American Progress, which supported the Obama administration’s “Russian reset.” Mr. Podesta personally lauded the effort to “build a more constructive relationship” with Russia at a 2009 event hosted by his think tank.This, btw, indicates that Podesta is something of an idiot. Why would you set up a shell company and then use your daughter's address for said shell company?
Mr. Podesta certainly seems to have made the effort to build a business relationship. About eight months after Mr. Podesta joined Joule in 2011, an investment fund backed by the Russian government, Rusnano, announced plans to invest about $35 million in the company. Several months later, Joule announced that Rusnano Chairman Anatoly Chubais was joining its board of directors. Around the same time, Mr. Podesta joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board.
It’s not illegal to invest alongside a Kremlin-backed investment vehicle tasked with developing and acquiring valuable technology to benefit Russia. Nor, as far as we know, is it illegal to do so while simultaneously serving as an outside adviser to the U.S. secretary of state.
But Mr. Podesta may have been concerned about the attention this association might draw when he went back into government in early 2014 to serve as a counselor to President Obama. That’s when Mr. Podesta declared on his federal financial disclosure form that he had divested himself of his Joule holdings.
This is where the story gets a little more complicated. The emails published on WikiLeaks show that around the time he was returning to the White House, Mr. Podesta wrote to Joule requesting the transfer of his shares to an entity called Leonidio Holdings, LLC, which had been created just weeks earlier.
Leonidio shares an address with Mr. Podesta’s daughter Megan Rouse, a financial planner who lives in California. When reached by telephone on Tuesday, Ms. Rouse told us that she did not have time to discuss the issue, thanked us for the call, and then hung up.
On Wednesday a Clinton campaign spokesman told us that Mr. Podesta cut his ties with Joule when he returned to the White House in 2014, “transferred the entirety of his holdings to his adult children” and “recused himself from all matters pertaining to Joule for the duration of his time at the White House.”
But WikiLeaks also shows Mr. Podesta receiving a bill for legal expenses related to Leonidio’s incorporation in Delaware. We wonder how often people pay the bills to create corporations in which they have no interest.
Mr. Podesta left the White House around February of 2015. He later received a bill from the law firm Steptoe and Johnson for legal work related to Joule performed in April of 2015. This also was published on WikiLeaks, and it says a Steptoe attorney spent half an hour working on “Joule request for consent to appointment of Mr. Akhanov.” Dmitry Akhanov, who runs Rusnano’s U.S. office, is now listed as a member of Joule’s board of directors. It would be highly unusual for a company to seek approval on a board appointment from someone who no longer has any ties to the business. Did Mr. Podesta resume his formal relationship with Joule and the Russian government’s investment fund right after leaving the White House and just before joining the Clinton campaign?
Mr. Schweizer says he detects in all this a clever attempt to dodge government disclosure rules: “America’s disclosure laws are designed to allow citizens to see what conflicts of interests our senior government officials might have. That is especially the case when they or their families are financially linked to adversarial foreign governments.”
The Clinton campaign did not make Mr. Podesta available for an interview. Perhaps he figures that with Mrs. Clinton leading in the polls he can avoid the topic through Election Day and then declare it all old news. Meantime, voters can be forgiven for discounting his protests about the Kremlin and Donald Trump.