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John Podesta lends heft to Bill Clinton's N. Korean delegation

TOP OF THE TICKET

The former chief of staff may have played a vital role in the mission to free the journalists.

August 09, 2009|Johanna Neuman and Brendan Bigelow

You can see him in the footage -- standing next to former President Clinton as they met with North Korean officials, and again over his shoulder as they returned from North Korea on a successful mission to free U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling. Studious and unobtrusive, John Podesta is the consummate inside player, a marathoner known for his discipline -- and his cooking.

He was Clinton's last White House chief of staff. He was co-chairman of President Obama's transition team. These days he's president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington.

What role did he play in securing the TV journalists' release?

For one thing, Podesta added gravitas to the delegation. Clinton is an international rock star, and the U.S. government provided security. But, officially, this was an unofficial visit. So Clinton added some heft to give it some quasi-official standing.

Elsewhere it was reported that Podesta appeared in court in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on behalf of the journalists. If true, that would suggest he played a role in obtaining the pardon for the two journalists, who were arrested in March while working on a TV documentary about human trafficking along the Chinese-North Korean border.

Whatever the role, Podesta's trip apparently came as a surprise to staffers at the center. One said he thought Podesta was on vacation in Truckee, Calif.

Twittering from the 1800s

Twitter is no longer reserved solely for the living.

President John Quincy Adams has joined Twitter to chronicle his trip to Russia -- a trip that took place 200 years ago. Well, his writings joined the micro-blogging site.

During a visit to the sixth U.S. president's archives, a high school student noticed that Adams' concise journal entries looked a lot like tweets.

The Massachusetts Historical Society decided that creating a Twitter account for Adams (JQAdams_MHS) would be the perfect way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his trip as U.S. minister to Russia.

The tweets cover a range of details, including meals, weather updates and the daily occurrences aboard his ship:

Aug. 15, 1809: "Weather fine -- wind scanty. Lat: 44-13. Long: 53-40. This afternoon I found the Caboose on fire."

Aug. 31, 1809: "Calm and light winds. Pleasant weather. Lat: 59-23. Long: 17-15. Cimon and Lucullus. Cards."

Sure, Adams' tweets may seem a bit dull compared with what we're used to seeing on Twitter, but what they lack in emoticons and LOLs, they more than make up for with geographical coordinates.

Press corps just wants to be sure

One could understand their confusion -- the White House reporters, we mean. After all, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and chief economic advisor Lawrence H. Summers suggested on talk shows that the Obama administration might be eyeing new taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had another view: "I want to just state again clearly here that the president has made a very clear commitment to not raise taxes on middle-class families, period."

That did not satisfy the White House press corps. This led to some exchanges with Gibbs that, depending on the point of view, were vigilant, thorough or redundant:

Q: So did Geithner and Summers go off-script or were they sort of testing the temperature out there of what something like this would --

Gibbs: I don't know. I know the president has been clear about his commitment on it.

Q: So there is no -- there's no real scenario there, as the administration sees it, where middle-class taxpayers might be hit with a hike? There's no scenario right now --

Gibbs: The president has been clear, very clear.

Q: Could I make that even a little more precise? The president, as you well know, is -- not just middle class, but he's been very precise about it: no family --

Gibbs: Let me be precise.

Q: Go ahead.

Gibbs: Let me be precise: The president's clear commitment is not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year. . . .

On and on it went. Before they finally branched off to a new topic -- healthcare -- a reporter tried one more time.

Q: The door is not open even a millimeter on raising taxes?

Gibbs: I hope you'll take seriously what I said.

--

Times staff writer Steve Padilla contributed to this report.

Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics ( www.latimes.com/ticket), is a blend of commentary, analysis and news. These are selections from the last week.

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