President Barack Obama is bringing former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta back to the White House as an advisor, officials confirmed, but the president and the founder of the Center for American Progress haven’t always seen eye-to-eye.
1. Drone Secrecy:
In March, following Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster of CIA Director John Brennan, Podesta wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling on the White House to lift the cloak of secrecy over the U.S. government’s drone program. “In refusing to release to Congress the rules and justifications governing a program that has conducted nearly 400 unmanned drone strikes and killed at least three Americans in the past four years, President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days,” Podesta wrote. Months later Obama delivered a speech at the National Defense University on several controversial national security programs, including drones, but he hasn’t yet met Podesta’s request to, “Give them up, Mr. President.”
2. NSA Spying
In a July interview with Der Spiegel, Podesta encouraged Obama to get ahead of the international outcry over the National Security Agency’s global surveillance programs. “He would be well-advised to engage in a public debate,” Podesta said. “But he should also establish a national commission to examine these challenges in full.” He pointed to investigations into the 9/11 attacks and Pearl Harbor as examples of previous investigations. Obama has ignored calls to move forward with such a commission, standing up only the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a watchdog group with little investigative power.
With the White House working to convince Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement allowing U.S. and allied forces to remain in that country after 2014, Podesta has criticized the Afghan leader. “Karzai has really gone from maddeningly unpredictable to dangerously erratic,” Podesta told NPR last month. The White House has delicately nudged Karzai in the press, but the Obama administration would rarely say something so indelicate about someone as mercurial as Karzai.
4. The American Political System
Asked by the Financial Times to comment on the health of the American political system in 2010, Podesta replied “it sucks.” Coming in the dark days when Congress and the White House were at loggerheads over the Affordable Care Act, Podesta added that Congress was turning the United States into “in essence, a parliamentary system without majority rule.”
In 2002, Podesta called on the federal government to declassify records relating to UFO investigations. “It is time for the government to declassify records that are more than 25 years old and to provide scientists with data that will assist in determining the real nature of this phenomenon,” he said. In 2010, Podesta wrote the foreword to a book on UFO investigations, writing, “As someone interested in the questions of UFOs, I think I have always understood the difference between fact and fiction. I guess you could call me a curious skeptic.” In 2012, Obama visited a town not far from Roswell, N.M., Obama didn’t exactly lead the charge on disclosure. “Let me tell you, there are more 9- and 10-year-old boys around the country — when I meet them, they ask me, “Have you been to Roswell, and is it true what they say?” And I tell them, “If I told you I’d have to kill you.”