Not My Job: Political Adviser John Podesta Gets Quizzed On A Swedish King

May 16, 2014
Originally published on May 19, 2014 9:37 am

John Podesta has very possibly spent more time in the West Wing than that bust of Winston Churchill. He was chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton during the impeachment saga and is now counselor to President Obama.

In honor of Carl Kasell, who becomes Wait Wait's Scorekeeper Emeritus after this show, we've invited Podesta to play a game called "Hello! This is Carl's Castle!" Three questions about a Carl who isn't a Kasell, but rather, has one — King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

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Now the game where we ask important people to do something that will never matter at all to anyone. John Podesta has spent more time in the West Wing than that bust of Winston Churchill. He was chief of staff to President Clinton during the impeachment saga. He is now counselor to President Obama. John Podesta, we are amazed you have time to join us here at WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME!


JOHN PODESTA: Well, I wanted to pay homage to Carl. And I thought that coming here and being humiliated was a price worth paying for that honor.

SAGAL: Yes. He secretly thrives on other people's displeasure, so there you are.


SAGAL: So John, you are what people who don't like Washington call a creature of Washington. You've been here for a long time, right?

PODESTA: Yeah. I grew up in Chicago, but I've been here for a long time.

SAGAL: And what brought you to town back when?

PODESTA: Political campaigns.

SAGAL: Really? Which ones?

PODESTA: I was working for George McGovern in 1972.

SAGAL: So you worked for George McGovern.


SAGAL: And you came, and you worked on his campaign. That was the one where you lost 49 states, right?

PODESTA: Correct.


SAGAL: And you said to yourself, this is awesome. I want to keep doing this.


SAGAL: Maybe someday, I could lose all 50.

PODESTA: We tried that with Mondale, but it didn't work.


SAGAL: Now, as I understand the story, you rose up through the ranks, and you became President Clinton's chief of staff. You lucked out because you got to - held that position just about the time the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke and all the fun that we had.


PODESTA: Exactly.

SAGAL: Yeah.

PODESTA: I was - I think I was the first chief of staff whose president was impeached, and the first one whose president was acquitted.

SAGAL: There you are.

PODESTA: There you go.


SAGAL: So how was that?


PODESTA: You know, that was - that's when I took up running.


SAGAL: Or I'm sure - as you called it at the time, fleeing.


SAGAL: What was it like working for President Clinton as his chief - 'cause President Clinton, famously, is up at all hours of the night, calling and...

PODESTA: Yeah. That was a problem for me.

SAGAL: Really?


SAGAL: Well, give me an example. What do you mean?

PODESTA: Well, I'm a kind of early-to-bed- early-to-rise guy.

SAGAL: Yeah.

PODESTA: And the president had this unnerving habit of - he stayed up all night. And he'd turn on C-SPAN, and he'd call me. And I'd be half-asleep, and he'd be bitching about a - whatever some senator was saying on the floor of the Senate 'cause he was watching C-SPAN reruns and telling me; You've got to tell him that the better argument is...

SAGAL: So 3 a.m., you're in bed...


SAGAL: ...Home with your family...

PODESTA: Home with - yeah.

SAGAL: ...Home - your phone rings; the president's on line for you.


SAGAL: And you're like...

PODESTA: And I'm half-asleep. My wife would just elbow me and say, you know the president of the United States is on the line. You should wake up.


SAGAL: And you wake up, and you say yes, sir. What is the emergency? And he says: I'm watching C-SPAN, and I'm annoyed.

PODESTA: Right. Yes.


PAULA POUNDSTONE: It was something on book notes.

SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: I want you to call Brian Lamb tomorrow and give him a talking to.


SAGAL: And did you - were you ever - I'm going to grant you sleep deprivation. Did you ever attempt to say to the president, it's 3 o'clock in the damn morning? I'll talk...

PODESTA: I never...

SAGAL: You never did that?

PODESTA: No. Only in the Oval Office would I yell at the president; never on the clock.

SAGAL: Did you yell at the president? When you yelled at the president, did you have to call him Mr. President?


SAGAL: Like, you're an idiot, and you're a fool, and you're a moron. You don't know what you're talking about, Mr. President?


MO ROCCA: Mr. President, this is C-SPAN 3. It's not even...

PODESTA: There are...


PODESTA: The White House has definite, you know, protocols.

SAGAL: Right.

PODESTA: And so you always call him, Mr. President. I call President Obama Mr. President.

SAGAL: Do you really?

PODESTA: Absolutely.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: I have a question because Washington, particularly in government, the idea is that it's 24/7, and that you never get any break, and people are sleep deprived for decades. That...

PODESTA: That's why we make such good decisions.


ROBERTS: So do you ever...


ROBERTS: Do you ever - are you allowed - do you still use a Blackberry?


ROBERTS: Are you ever allowed to go someplace where you really didn't have, you know, like...


ROBERTS: Really? You're allowed? Like, that's not against the rules?

PODESTA: It's totally against the rules.



ROCCA: Do you ever...

PODESTA: You have to be prepared to break the rules once in a while.

ROCCA: Do you ever text with the president?

PODESTA: Not really.

ROCCA: But you email back and forth. Does he ever use emoticons?


ROCCA: Like frowny face if he's upset at you, if maybe you were out of cell range.

PODESTA: He's extremely good at letting people know when he's upset with them.

SAGAL: Well, we should...

ROCCA: So he uses emoji, then.

PODESTA: He doesn't really need...

SAGAL: We should clarify that now we're talking about the current president, President Obama. You work for him in a different capacity.


SAGAL: You're his counselor. You're counselor to the president.


POUNDSTONE: So that means...

PODESTA: That's a better job.

SAGAL: Right. So...

PODESTA: Because that means I have no responsibility, and I just get to counsel.


POUNDSTONE: Does that mean that you help him choose his classes for next year?


ROCCA: I was thinking that you're always at Camp David.


SAGAL: Yeah.

ROCCA: Wouldn't you want to be a counselor at Camp David?

SAGAL: At Camp David.

PODESTA: Well, I hadn't thought about that, but that's a good one.


PODESTA: I'm going to work on that.


SAGAL: Well, John Podesta, it is a delight to talk to you. We have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

CARL KASELL: Hello, This Is Carl's Castle.


SAGAL: In honor...


SAGAL: ...Of our judge and scorekeeper, we're going to ask you three questions about a Carl who isn't a Kasell, but has one. King Carl the XVI Gustav of Sweden. We're going to ask you three questions about this other, less interesting Carl; and if you answer two or three correct, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - Carl's voice, of course. Carl Kasell, who is John Podesta playing for?

KASELL: He's playing for Dustin Oakley (ph) of Washington, D.C.

SAGAL: There you go.


SAGAL: Here we go. First question: King Carl acceeded to the throne in 1973. Shortly thereafter, he married the former Silvia Sommerlath. She has a notable role in Swedish history. What is it? A, you know that song "Dancing Queen" by ABBA? That's her.


SAGAL: B, she became the first European royal in all of European history to be married wearing a pantsuit; or C, she's the first member of the famous Swedish Bikini Team to rise to the monarchy?


PODESTA: Well, I'm almost certain that I've seen her in a pantsuit.

SAGAL: All right - wait a minute.


SAGAL: You're saying you've met the Queen of Sweden?

PODESTA: No, no. In photos.

SAGAL: Photos. You just sit at home looking through your photos of...


SAGAL: ...The staff of European royalty.

PODESTA: I was just, you know, dragging for a clue here.

SAGAL: I understand, so here's a...

ROBERTS: Let's be logical about this. This is a royal wedding.

SAGAL: Right.

ROBERTS: Pantsuit?

SAGAL: Pantsuit.

ROBERTS: You think?


SAGAL: You're going to go for A. That she was the dancing queen in the song by ABBA?


SAGAL: That's right, she was.


POUNDSTONE: All right.


SAGAL: 'Cause we remember that ABBA is Swedish. And they wrote and performed that song for the first time at the royal wedding. Now, King Carl - not an exciting guy, but he endured a scandal a few years ago, when it was revealed that King Carl had what? A, never much liked creamed herring; B, often got drunk at parties and said he wished he was king of Norway...


SAGAL: ...Or, C, attended Jacuzzi sex parties at a club owned by a Serbian gangster underneath police headquarters?

PODESTA: Well, I know it's not C.

ROCCA: What?

PODESTA: I think I'm going with the - A.

SAGAL: You're going to go with - that he got - scandal where he said, I just don't like creamed herring, the national dish of Sweden. No, actually, it was C.




SAGAL: Not so mild-mannered. Book came out a couple years ago, called "The Reluctant King," which laid all this out. All right. You still have one more chance here. King Carl, once the scandal broke, answered the charges in a typically Swedish way. He decided to address the controversy how? A, by simply staring into the distance and shrugging once in a while...


SAGAL: ...B, by giving a press conference in a forest clearing during an the elk hunt...


SAGAL: ...Or C, by offering to assemble everyone's IKEA furniture for them.


SAGAL: Typical - the traditional Swedish gesture of apology.

ROCCA: Don't say C.


PODESTA: Not going with C.

SAGAL: Not going to go with C.

PODESTA: I think they have elk in Sweden.

SAGAL: They have plenty of elk in Sweden.

PODESTA: So I'm going with B.

SAGAL: You're right, that's what he did.


ROBERTS: All right!


SAGAL: In the wake of these revelations about his youthful hijinks, King Carl invited the press to this field in the forest, showed up in his wax jacket - whatever that is - and said, quote, "We choose to turn the page and move forward because, as I understand, these are things that happened a long time ago."


SAGAL: Carl, how did John Podesta do on our quiz?

KASELL: He's a winner, Peter. John had two correct answers.


SAGAL: Well done.

SAGAL: John Podesta is counselor to the president of the United States. John Podesta, thank you so much.

PODESTA: Thank you, Peter.

(APPLAUSE, CHEERS) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.