The Cable

John Podesta stepping down as head of CAP

Center for American Progress (CAP) President and CEO John Podesta will be stepping down as the day-to-day manager and handing over the reins to CAP's Chief Operating Officer Neera Tanden.

Podesta, who founded CAP in 2003 and also served as the head of President Barack Obama's transition team, will remain as CAP's chairman of the board and will be a full-time employee at CAP focusing on long-term strategic planning and new projects. The change in management will take effect Nov. 1.

"By pulling out of the day-to-day, I will able to pursue two parallel objectives," Podesta wrote in a note to CAP employees today, obtained by The Cable. "Inside CAP, I intend to use this greater time and latitude to play an instrumental role in planning CAP's strategic growth, increasing our financial support, and drawing new initiatives into the organization. On the outside, I will continue teaching as a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center and working part-time as an uncompensated senior advisor at the State Department."

Podesta's role as senior advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not been previously reported. Podesta has been working at the State Department unpaid, one day a week, since late last month, a State Department official told The Cable.

Podesta has been serving as an expert consultant to the State Department, providing advice on foreign policy priorities. Specifically, he has been helping State implement components of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), including efforts to leverage diplomacy for development, elevating the role of energy and economics in U.S. foreign policy, and enhancing civilian power in the transitions occurring in the Middle East, the official said. 

Throughout his long career in Washington, Podesta has worked on a number of key the foreign policy issues, focusing heavily on energy security, economic security, climate change, civilian power, civil society building, and international development.

He was President Bill Clinton's chief of staff and was a principal on the National Security Council. He was also counselor to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (1995-1996), chief counsel for the Senate Agriculture Committee (1987-1988), and chief minority counsel for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittees on Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks, Security and Terrorism, and Regulatory Reform (1981-1987).

Tanden, who is a graduate of Yale Law School and served as policy director for Clinton's presidential campaign, will take over Podesta's responsibilities. She talked about her desire to unite the left in advance of the 2012 election in an interview with the New York Times today.

"There's a lack of faith in our ability to solve large-scale problems together, and that weakens the progressive cause," she said. "There's big hunger for bigger solutions, and some of the reaction we're seeing in this country is a rejection of the current discourse in Washington."

The Cable

Ford brought back to Washington for consultations … or due to threats

The State Department has brought U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford back to Washington for an indeterminate period of time either because he was under threat of attack or for consultations, or both, depending on which State Department spokesman you listen to.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner sent out an e-mail early Monday morning announcing Ford had left Damascus on Oct. 22 due to threats of violence against him.

"Ambassador Robert Ford was brought back to Washington as a result of credible threats against his personal safety in Syria," Toner said. "At this point, we can't say when he will return to Syria. It will depend on our assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground... This decision was based solely on the need to ensure his safety, a matter we take extremely seriously."

Ford has been assaulted at least twice while venturing out to engage the opposition in Syria over the recent months, and Syrian state media has been waging a media campaign against him. Toner's statement seemed to indicate a new, specific threat, but no details were provided and requests for more information were not answered.

By Monday afternoon, when lead spokesperson Victoria Nuland took the podium at today's press briefing, the reasons given for Ford's return to Washington had changed. Nuland said that Ford was called back for "consultations," and to give him a rest from the stressful situation in Syria.

"Let me correct a misimpression in the media. Ambassador Ford has been asked to come home for consultations. He has not been withdrawn; he has not been recalled. He's been asked to come home for consultations," Nuland said.

"First of all, we want a chance to consult with him, talk to him about how he sees the situation in Damascus. It's also the case that, you know, the situation there is quite tense, and we want to give him a little bit of a break."

Nuland also said the State Department is "concerned about a campaign of regime-led incitement targeted personally at Ambassador Ford by the state-run media of the government of Syria, and we're concerned about the security situation that that has created."

But she would not acknowledge that there any specific new threats against Ford's safety and refused to discuss what, if any, intelligence led to the decision to bring him home for an indeterminate period of time.

"I want to say that we do expect Ambassador Ford will be returning to Damascus after his consultations are completed," Nuland said, declining to say what criteria would be used to determined when Ford could return to Damascus.

The reporters at the briefing noted that Nuland's remarks seemed to be walking back Toner's Monday morning statement, which only mentioned the "credible threats" against Ford.

Nuland, however, stuck to her guns. "Are we finished with Syria? Have we exhausted Syria? I'm exhausted; I don't know about you guys," she said at one point in the questioning on the topic.

Nuland also rejected the comments of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who said in Jordan that the United States may consider military options inside Syria.

"The vast majority of the Syrian opposition continues to speak in favor of peaceful, nonviolent protests and against foreign intervention of any kind, and particularly foreign military intervention, into the situation in Syria, and we respect that," she said.