Hillary Clinton’s expected campaign chairman has an eclectic record that includes UFO advocacy and having to apologise for comparing Republicans to killer cultists.
John Podesta, a senior White House aide, will leave his government job in February for Clinton’s campaign, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
“The precise role Mr. Podesta would play in a Clinton campaign is unclear. People familiar with discussions said he likely would be campaign chairman, should she decide to run,” the Journal reported.
Despite the ambiguity, it is clear from additional reports that Podesta is expected to at least hold a “senior title” in Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign. And from Podesta’s record, it’s also clear he will give Republicans at least a small amount of ammunition to criticise Clinton.
With that in mind, Business Insider gathered some of the highlights from Podesta’s past. (Podesta’s office told Business Insider he is out of the country and would be unable to comment for this story.)
Podesta had to apologise in 2013 after he compared congressional Republicans to the Jonestown cultists who killed a congressman in 1978 and committed a mass suicide in Guyana that left over 900 people dead.
He made the remark while arguing President Barack Obama should take more unilateral actions.
“They need to focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the houses of Congress,” Podesta said of the president’s administration in an interview with Politico.
In response, Republicans expressed outrage and some even called for Podesta to be fired. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), who is now the House whip, was particularly vocal.
“It’s disgraceful and telling that President Obama’s new Counselor is not only comparing the Republican Party to a cult that murdered those who disagreed with them, but is also using that comparison as an argument in support of shredding the Constitution and governing like a third-world dictator,” Scalise said at the time. “The American people will not stand by and allow the Obama White House to destroy the checks-and-balances defined in the Constitution that are critical to a working democracy, and neither will Congress!”
Podesta eventually apologised on Twitter.
Clinton has been criticised for awkwardly refusing to take a position on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which many Republicans say would create thousands of jobs and lower oil prices if approved.
Podesta was such a staunch critic of the pipeline that he recused himself from the decision-making process while at the White House. In a 2010 speech while he led the progressive think tank Center for American Progress, Podesta strongly condemned the project as unsafe and unsound.
“First, as the Gulf spill reminds us every day, rushing to complete oil projects invites disaster. There are enough legitimate questions about this pipeline — how soon it will be needed, its design and safety, and its potential impacts on important ecosystems along its 2,000 mile length — to take a more deliberate approach,” he said, according to a transcript.
Obama recently vowed to veto legislation authorizing Keystone, but as a top priority of the Republican-led Congress, it is likely to become a campaign issue in the 2016 elections. Polls show a majority of Americans support the project.
Thoughts on American Politics
Podesta had a blunt assessment in 2010 when he was asked to evaluate the health of American politics.
Podesta went on to blame Republicans’ obstructionist tactics for the woes of the current political system.
“I think the president is trying to re-engage with Republicans, but, quite frankly, he’s not dealing with the party of Lincoln,” he continued. “He’s dealing with the party of Palin.”
Podesta has a particular interest in unidentified flying objects and has even been labelled a “UFO advocate” for his efforts.
Podesta, also a former aide in President Bill Clinton’s administration, took a number of steps to promote government transparency on the issue. He spoke at a 2002 press conference calling on the US to declassify UFO records. He also wrote the foreword to the 2011 book “UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record.”
“As someone interested in the question of UFOs, I think I have always understood the difference between fact and fiction. I guess you could call me a curious sceptic. But I’m sceptical about many things, including the notion that government always knows best,” Podesta wrote. “The time to pull the curtain back on this subject is long overdue.”
And here is video of Podesta speaking at the 2002 event urging the release of UFO records:
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