REPORT: Huawei Hires Veteran Democratic Lobbyist Tony Podesta

(Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

Varun Hukeri General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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Chinese telecom giant Huawei is reportedly hiring veteran Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta as part of the company’s efforts to improve relations with President Joe Biden’s administration, according to people familiar with the matter.

It is unclear what role Podesta will take on at Huawei, but sources familiar with the matter said he will work to advance a number of the company’s goals in Washington, Politico first reported. The role marks Podesta’s return as a lobbyist after his firm the Podesta Group shut down in 2017 amid financial and legal troubles.

During special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference, the Podesta Group came under scrutiny for its work with former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chief Paul Manafort. Podesta had ended his lobbying career during the Russia inquiry, but a New York Times story earlier in July reported he was seeking to return to lobbying.

Podesta’s reported new role comes as Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress. He has close relationships with Biden and top White House aides, according to The Wall Street Journal. His brother John Podesta is chairman of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress and a household name in Democratic circles.

Huawei is not Podesta’s first Chinese client, as financial disclosures filed in April 2016 show his former company represented the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, a nominally private nonprofit that critics say is linked to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence operations in the U.S.

Huawei faces a number of legal and trade issues in Washington. The Justice Department during the Trump administration charged the Shenzhen-based company with several counts of fraud in January 2019 and later with conspiracy to steal trade secrets in February 2020. (RELATED: Former Director Of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe Attacks Biden, Says He’s A Softy On China)

Meng Wanzhou, the company’s chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada in December 2018 on a provisional U.S. extradition request for fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud in order to circumvent sanctions against Iran.

The Commerce Department under the Trump administration also moved last year to block Huawei’s access to American-made computer chips and semiconductor equipment, and pressured other countries to prohibit high-risk Chinese vendors such as Huawei from being a part of their 5G mobile infrastructure.

Although Huawei is nominally a private company, internal documents and research indicate the telecom giant is connected to Chinese state security agencies and the People’s Liberation Army.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) is shown around the offices of Chinese tech firm Huawei technologies by its President Ren Zhengfei in London during his state visit on October 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Matthew Lloyd (Photo credit should read MATTHEW LLOYD/AFP via Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping is shown around the offices of Chinese tech firm Huawei technologies by its President Ren Zhengfei in London during his state visit on October 21, 2015 (Matthew Lloyd/AFP via Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated Huawei as a national security threat in June 2020. Then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai cited the company’s “close ties to the [CCP] and China’s military apparatus” along with its obligations under Chinese law “to cooperate with the country’s intelligence services.”

In an unanimous vote in December 2020, the FCC upheld its designation over an appeal put forward by Huawei.

Huawei’s recent moves, including its reported decision to hire Podesta, could be an attempt to mend relations with Washington under the Biden administration, according to the WSJ. Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei said in February he hoped Biden would take a softer approach toward the company than his predecessor.

The company’s U.S. branch spent more than $1 million on lobbying in the second quarter ending June 30, a dramatic increase from the $180,000 spent in the first quarter, financial disclosures filed Tuesday reveal. (RELATED: GOP Senators Slam Biden Nominee Who Lobbied For Chinese Tech Company)

Registration forms also show Huawei hired four new lobbying groups this summer, including firms run by former Republican Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry and former Whitewater prosecutor Stephen Binhak, according to the WSJ.

“Huawei has engaged with these firms to generate a better understanding between Huawei and the U.S. government,” a source familiar with the recent hires told The Hill.