‘Had dinner with him last Thursday,’ Podesta said of Tung Chee-hwa in 2015 email
A newly announced senior adviser to President Biden referred to a top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official as his “friend” and took several phone calls from him between 2015 and 2016 while serving as the chairman for Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign, according to emails reviewed by Fox News Digital.
Biden announced earlier this month that he was appointing John Podesta to serve as his senior adviser to the president for clean energy innovation and implementation, saying his “deep roots in climate and clean energy policy” will help the administration “hit the ground running” on pushing forward these policies. In this new role, Podesta will oversee approximately $370 billion in climate spending.
Four days after Podesta left the White House as a counselor to President Obama in February 2015, his assistant, Eryn Sepp, informed him that he would be receiving a call on his “house line” from Tung Chee-hwa, who has been serving as a vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) since the early 2000s. The CPPCC is the “key mechanism for multi-party cooperation and political consultation” under the leadership of the CCP, according to the CPPCC website.
A few weeks later, Sepp and one of Tung’s assistants exchanged emails to set up another call between Podesta and Tung in early March 2015, a month before Clinton would announce her candidacy.
In June 2015, Podesta said he had another call with Tung and asked Melanie Hart, then-director of China policy at the Center for American Progress (CAP), the think tank Podesta founded, for an update on who they had requested meetings with in China because he said that Tung could “probably be helpful.”
Hart, who is currently Biden’s China policy coordinator for the Office of the Undersecretary of State, listed two CCP officials and said she “shared the three names above with [Tung’s] team so they are in the loop. We are also working to confirm a good slot for a breakfast or lunch meeting with you and [Tung].” “CH” in the email refers to Tung Chee-hwa.
In a September 2015 email to Alex Cherin, a partner at Englander Knabe & Allen, Podesta referred to Tung as his “friend from Hong Kong” whom he met with the week prior. Cherin’s email communications with Podesta do not appear to be related to any of Podesta’s emails regarding Tung or the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), which Tung founded.
“Had dinner with him last Thursday,” Podesta wrote.
Podesta and Tung also co-authored a paper for CAP in December 2013 that called for the strengthening of “major power relations” between the U.S. and China. In addition to Tung being a top official in the CPPCC, he also founded CUSEF, which has bankrolled several American universities, think tanks and nonprofit organizations, and has received increased scrutiny over the last few years for its activity with the CCP’s “united front” system, the sprawling Chinese Communist Party apparatus that conducts influence operations abroad, the Washington Free Beacon reported. Tung continues to be listed as chairman of the foundation on the organization’s website.
In May 2013, Tung and Podesta spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which included China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai.
“For the last four years though, Center for American Progress and China-U.S. Exchange Foundation have co-hosted a US.-China track II dialogue and we continue to host these dialogues on an annual basis,” Podesta said. “I have the highest regard for C.H. Tung’s tireless efforts to bring our two nations closer together. He is always looking ahead to anticipate emerging challenges in the U.S.-China relations and to figure out what he can do to make those challenges more manageable.”
Later during the event, Podesta walked up to the mic to introduce Tung and said he wanted to join all the people in the room for thanking Tung for his “leadership,” prompting Tung to later thank Podesta for his “inspirational talk.”
Podesta also had multiple calls with Tung during the latter part of 2015 and early 2016, including calls in July, August, September, January and March, according to Wikileaks emails reviewed by Fox News Digital. The Daily Caller reported that Podesta is currently sitting on the “U.S.-China 2022 Steering Committee” of CUSEF and has penned at least three pieces on CUSEF’s website.
The failed Hillary Clinton campaign chairman isn’t the only Biden administration official with ties to Tung. Biden’s staff secretary, Neera Tanden, who formerly served as the president and CEO of CAP before joining the Biden administration, was also tied to CUSEF.
During a 2014 CAP event in Washington, D.C., that featured Tung as a speaker, Tanden highlighted how it had “become clear” that China and the United States were “interdependent” and said since 2008 CAP and CUSEF have organized five track II dialogues. Tanden mentioned Tung’s name twice during her opening remarks.
Later during the event, Tung praised CAP and said he was “delighted” to be back. He said it was in 2005 that he began exploring the “landscape in Washington” because he wanted to find a way to develop a relationship between the countries and found that CAP’s position on China-U.S. relations was the most “progressive” of the DC-based think tanks.
“You were thinking ahead of the curve of most of your peers and I was really impressed and you may have not known things then, but I was trying to court you and your colleagues, trying to work together with you,” Tung said. “I’m delighted to be back at Center for American Progress.”
He went on to say that the relationship between CAP and CUSEF has been “very, very fruitful” dialogue, adding that he is really excited that the dialogue is “reaching climax,” referring to his appearance at the event and the high-level discussions they were having. He also alluded to Podesta without mentioning his name, saying, “We miss the other person who is the architect of all this, but he’s now – I’m afraid he has a better job to do, so he’s not with us today,” referring to his role in the White House.
When reached for comment on whether the White House was concerned about ties between CUSEF/Tung and some of the aforementioned officials in the Biden White House, a White House official told Fox News Digital that “White House employees are required to step down from outside positions and he will have a two year recusal under the Pledge from all of his previous affiliations.” Fox News Digital followed up to clarify whether Podesta would still be allowed to communicate with Tung, but the White House did not respond.
A CAP spokesperson told Fox News Digital, “The Center for American Progress is an independent, nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans. At no point has CAP funded research with CUSEF. CAP has engaged in dialogues with a variety of stakeholders, even where and as we may disagree, to try to work toward better outcomes for our country, our world, and our shared climate concerns. CAP strongly supports greater transparency regarding foreign government funding sources across all think tanks. In fact, CAP’s most recent China strategy calls for the Internal Revenue Service to incorporate foreign funding.”
CUSEF didn’t immediately respond to a Fox News Digital request for comment.
Tung’s CPPCC is a “central part” of China’s united front system, which works to “co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” according to a 2018 report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a U.S. government agency.
The CPPCC is “designed to liaise with non-Communist Party members – and ultimately see them work with the CCP to advance its interests,” The Diplomat reported last year.
Fox News Digital reported last week that Hunter Biden allegedly sat at the same table as Tung during a welcoming dinner hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in December 2013, which led to Hunter’s business associate, James Bulger, asking him if he could introduce Bohai Harvest RST (BHR) CEO Jonathan Li and BHR committee member, Andy Lu, to Tung.
“It is my understanding that during the trip to Beijing that you made with your father, President Xi hosted a welcome dinner,” Bulger wrote. “[A]t that dinner, you were seated right next to Mr Tung, therefore J and Andy believe it would be very helpful if you could please send a brief email to Mr Tung laying out that you are a partner and Board Member of BHR and that You would be grateful to Mr Tung if he could meet your local partners to discuss the Fund.”
“Please let me know if you can introduce these two to Mr Tung by email it is very important to our BHR intiative [sic] at this moment,” Bulger stressed.
Hunter responded that he was “happy” to fulfill the request but said he couldn’t recall the names of the gentlemen who sat next to him at the dinner.
“Happy to do this,” he wrote, “but I have no email address for Mr. Tung and he very well may have sat next to me but I don’t recall the two gentlemen’s names to my left and right. Regardless, I would suggest the team draft an email in Mandarin and English for my approval ASAP.” None of the parties involved in the emails responded to previous requests for comment from Fox News Digital, so it is unclear if the introduction took place.