Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on 3/30/2017 to show that Mr. Podesta was not required to file Schedule B to OGE Form 278, since he was a “new entrant” at the time he certified the form.
John Podesta, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 national campaign chairman, may have violated federal law by failing to disclose the receipt of 75,000 shares of stock from a Kremlin-financed company when he joined the Obama White House in 2014, according to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group.
Joule Unlimited Technologies — financed in part by a Russian firm — originally awarded Podesta 100,000 shares of stock options when in 2010 he joined that board along with its Dutch-based entities: Joule Global Holdings, BV and the Stichting Joule Global Foundation.
When Podesta announced his departure from the Joule board in January 2014 to become President Barack Obama’s special counselor, the company officially issued him 75,000 common shares of stock.
The Schedule B section of the federal government’s form 278 requires officials to “report any purchase, sale or exchange by you, your spouse, or dependent children…of any property, stocks, bonds, commodity futures and other securities when the amount of the transaction exceeded $1,000,” but does not apply to “new entrants” to government, which Podesta qualifies as.
Podesta’s form 278 Schedule B is blank regarding his receipt of any stock from any company.
Liberals and conservatives alike tell TheDCNF Podesta should have disclosed the stock.
“Well Podesta should certainly have been more upfront in filling this out. Clearly, it should have been fully disclosed,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the liberal group Public Citizen, which was founded by Ralph Nader. “That’s the point of the personal financial disclosure forms, especially for anyone entering the White House,” he told TheDCNF in an interview.
“If the transfer of stock took place, it had to be disclosed,” added former U.S. Attorney Joseph DiGenova in an interview. “If he didn’t, clearly it’s a violation.”
The same year Podesta joined Joule, the company agreed to accept 1 billion rubles — or $35 million — from Rusnano, a state-run and financed Russian company with close ties to President Vladimir Putin.
Anatoly Chubais, the company CEO, and two other top Russian banking executives worked together with Podesta on the Joule boards. The board met six times a year.
Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director, said because of the Kremlin backing, it was essential Podesta disclose the financial benefits he received from the company.
“I think in this case where you’re talking about foreign interests and foreign involvement, the collateral interest with these disclosure forms is put in the forefront of full disclosure of any foreign interest that you may have,” he told TheDCNF in an interview.
He added that Russian money was a continuing concern because it could “become a counterintelligence concern for America.”
“It’s a troubled question if you deliberately omit this information on the form,” Hosko, a 30-year veteran of the FBI told TheDCNF. “Were you completely truthful on this form that you filled out, yes or no?”
Podesta took possession of the stock in January 2014, the same month he entered the White House, according to WikiLeaks.
The existence of the 75,000 shares of Joule stock was first revealed by the Government Accountability Institute report issued last year.
But Podesta didn’t pocket all the shares. Correspondence from Podesta to Joule instructed the firm to transfer only 33,693 shares to Leonidio Holdings, a brand-new entity he incorporated only on Dec. 20, 2013, about 10 days before he entered the White House.
In a Jan. 4, 2014 letter to Joule corporate secretary Mark Solakian, Podesta requested the transfer to Leonidio of 25,146 shares of series C stock and 8,547 shares of Series C-II. The letter was released by WikiLeaks last October.
When WikiLeaks disclosed the existence of Leonidio last year, Josh Schwerin, a Clinton campaign spokesman, claimed Podesta — by then the campaign chairman — had “divested” himself of all the stock.
“When Podesta went back to the work at the White House, he worked with White House counsel to personally divest from Joule and ensure he was in full compliance with all government ethics rules,” Schwerin said, adding Podesta “filed the appropriate forms.”
But there is no indication the remaining 41,000 shares went to any other party.
The government does outline federal penalties for failing to report assets.
Title 5 of the U.S. Code stipulates the U.S. Attorney General can file a civil action “against any individual who knowingly and willfully falsifies or who knowingly and willfully fails to file or report any information that such individual is required to report.” The federal penalty can be up to $50,000 per count.
Leonidio is registered in Delaware as a limited liability corporation. Podesta listed the address of his daughter, Megan Rouse, in the incorporation papers. His mother and father also appear to be co-owners of Leonidio.
Most experts believe the Office of Government Ethics, which is supposed to monitor the accuracy of financial disclosure forms, is toothless.
One of the last individuals to be indicted for filing incorrect financial forms was former Rep. Walter Fauntroy in 1995. He was given parole.
“Unfortunately, the office of government ethics has no authority to make anyone do anything,” admitted Holman.
“It is an advisory agency, essentially,” the liberal lobbyist told TheDCNF. “It can develop rules, it can make orders, but if someone doesn’t abide by it OGE has no enforcement authority.”
Scott Amey, general counsel for the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, went further, telling TheDCNF in an interview, “OGE doesn’t really have the authority to open their own investigations and they don’t have authority to get into disciplinary action.”
But OGE has also been accused of partisanship. Earlier this year, OGE Director Walter Shaub publicly criticized President Trump’s plan to deal with his sprawling businesses, calling his financial reorganization plan “wholly inadequate.” He also called for the president to seek “total divestment” of his Washington, D.C. hotel.
Last week, the General Services Administration said a set of additional rules to the federal lease for the downtown Washington hotel put it into “full compliance” with governmental ethics laws.
DiGenova said the office is biased and hypocritical in what cases they picked to criticize. “They have no problem tweeting out about Donald Trump’s hotels, but here on a clear violation they’re silent.”
TheDCNF made multiple inquiries to OGE and received no reply. TheDCNF inquiries to Mr. Podesta were not returned.
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