With Saudi and Russian ties, Clinton machine's tentacles are far reaching, according to Panama Papers

The Podesta Group, a lobbying firm headed by Clinton operatives, has made a pretty penny working for Saudi & Russia

Published April 8, 2016 6:21PM (EDT)

Hillary Clinton (AP)
Hillary Clinton (AP)

A key gear in the Clinton machine that has sucked in hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying on behalf of the Saudi absolute monarchy has also worked for Russia's biggest bank.

The Podesta Group is one of the most influential Democratic Party-linked lobbyists in the U.S. And it is headed by a top Hillary Clinton fundraiser who has been referred to as the "Hillary moneyman."

Sberbank, the largest financial institution in Eastern Europe, hired the Podesta Group to help powder up its public image, The Observer reports.

This is just one of the many findings in the so-called Panama Papers, a trove of 11.5 million documents that expose how political and economic elites from around the planet are stashing their money in secretive tax havens.

In March, the Podesta Group registered with the U.S. government as a lobbyist for Sberbank.

The bank plays an enormous role in the Russian economy. It controls almost 30 percent of Russia’s aggregate banking assets, employs a quarter-million people and "is functionally an arm of the Kremlin, although it’s ostensibly a private institution," The Observer notes.

Many right-wing publications and neoconservative figures have jumped on this story in hopes of trying to tie the Clintons to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the preferred trumped up bogeyman in the U.S. establishment today.

Hillary Clinton herself is not directly implicated, just one of her biggest campaign bundlers. What is more important about the story, however, is not that it exposes some kind of nefarious Russian plot — as questionable "NSA spook" author John Schindler appears to suggest with Cold War-esque hand-wringing in his Observer article — but rather that the Clinton machine is ultimately loyal to the dollar and to the dollar alone.

In this political universe, the biggest bank in Russia — a U.S. enemy — is joined by the theocratic dictatorship in Saudi Arabia — a close U.S. ally.

The Podesta Group has a hefty contract with the Saudi regime, for which the firm provides “public relations” services on behalf of King Salman's royal court.

Saudi Arabia paid the Podesta Group an initial “project fee” of $200,000, along with unspecified further payment, according to documents filed with the Justice Department Foreign Agents Registration Act office.

Tony Podesta, CEO of the Podesta Group, co-founded the public affairs firm in 1998 with his brother John, himself a prominent Clinton operative.

John Podesta has played a variety of roles in the Clinton machine. He served as chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, and is now the chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

Prominent Democrat Party-aligned Washington think tank the Center for American Progress was also founded by John Podesta, who was its first president.

The Panama Papers reveal a bit more about the Saudi royal family, which has used a series of British Virgin Islands shell companies to take out at least $34 million worth of mortgages for houses in London and “a luxury yacht the length of a football field.”

The Podesta Group is by no means the only D.C.-based lobbying firm that shills for the Saudis. A slew of other Washington lobbyists join the Podesta Group in working on behalf of the theocratic Saudi regime, which governs according to a strict, fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law; funds and exports extremism throughout the world; regularly beheads dissidents; and refuses to grant basic rights to women.

At the 2016 Summit on Saudi Arabia, the first international conference to challenge the U.S. relationship with the Saudi regime, Saudi human rights lawyer Abdulaziz al-Hussan recalled that, when he worked as a human rights lobbyist in the West, he was constantly “depressed by how nobody wanted to say anything about human rights in Saudi, because of all the money.”

Al-Hussan condemned "hypocrite governments in the West, who support the violation of human rights for business interests."

Yet the Podesta Group is by no means the only part of the Clinton machine with ties to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi regime is one the largest donors to the Clinton Foundation. It has poured between $10 million and $25 million into the organization, which has been accused of carrying out an international money laundering scheme.

Perhaps most egregious of all, huge arms deals approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department also happened to place weapons in the hands of governments that donated money to the Clinton Foundation — including the autocratic Gulf regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — an investigation the International Business Times found.

Moreover, Bill Clinton has garnered enormous fees for speeches in Saudi Arabia, investigative reporter Michael Isikoff points out, including $600,000 for two talks while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

In his report on the Clinton machine's ties to Saudi Arabia, Isikoff also notes that two "of the Clinton lobbyist-bundlers, Richard Sullivan and David Jones, are principals in a firm that, until late last year, represented the Russia Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund co-founded by Vladimir Putin when he was prime minister."

All of these actors are moving parts in the enormous Clinton machine, which has its tentacles everywhere, and — as journalist Matt Taibbi infamously wrote of Goldman Sachs — "relentlessly jams its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Hillary Clinton John Podesta The Podesta Group Tony Podesta