Power pair ‘best friends’ no more


Heather and Tony Podesta attend a barbeque at Esther Coopersmith's D.C. home Aug. 2, 2011. They are now divorcing ang battling. (Rebecca D'Angelo/For The Washington Post)

Looks like the divorce of art-collecting super-lobbyists Tony, 70, and Heather, 44, Podesta isn’t as amicable as it seemed when the couple first acknowledged their split in January 2013. At that time, they called one another “best friends” and sources said “no fireworks [were] expected in dividing the art collection.”

But dueling court documents filed in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday paint a very different picture. The pair, married in 2003, formally asked the court for a divorce, and each invited a judge to intervene in divvying up assets — including the 1,300-piece art collection — if the two and their formidable legal teams cannot work things out. Neither filing places a dollar figure on the worth of the Podesta art, but individual pieces are said to be worth millions.

The couple was once one of the Beltway’s most powerful — and colorful. Tony, a former Democratic operative, co-founded the Podesta Group with brother John, later Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff and now a counselor to President Obama. Heather Podesta is a former Democratic Hill staffer who hung out her own lobby-shop shingle at Heather Podesta + Partners in 2007. Together, they threw parties in their Kalorama home and flamboyantly embraced a profession typically practiced in the shadows.

But that was then. Below are their sides of the story, taken from the April 3 court filings.

He said: Duped

Tony Podesta accused his wife of 11 years of misleading him about the possibility of reconciliation last March when he paid half the down payment on a multimillion-dollar home for her. He claims that at the time, unbeknownst to him, she had begun a relationship with another man.

In the court filing, he accused her of asking prominent museums to block him from donating works of art. He claims she changed the locks on their apartment in Venice, Italy, since the two separated.

“Ms. Podesta has sought to embarrass and harass Mr. Podesta in an effort to gain financial leverage,” the filing states.

Tony Podesta is asking to retain the property he owned before their marriage, which he says includes homes in the District, Virginia, Italy and Australia. He also hopes to maintain possession of the art he purchased before marrying Heather in 2003. He proposes that they “equitably distribute” the property and debt accumulated during the marriage. (The Podestas have no children.)

The couple’s shared occupation is at issue in the divorce. In the court document, filed by divorce-lawyer-to-the-Beltway-elite Sanford Ain, Tony claims responsibility for his wife’s success, schooling her in the lobbying business and introducing her to his network of high-profile contacts. He also claims that her salary before their marriage was $55,000, and that she now earns “many millions” annually. “Ms. Podesta’s career has risen meteorically since the parties’ marriage, with Mr. Podesta’s assistance and connections,” according to the document.

Despite these accusations, Podesta subsequently issued a statement with kind words for the woman he’s divorcing. “I have great affection and respect for Heather and hope we can settle this in a fair and equitable manner and remain friends.”

She said: Mine

Hours after Tony filed for divorce, Heather Podesta counterpunched.

She’s seeking the couple’s Kalorama home as well as half of the couple’s museum-quality artwork.

In her filing, Heather says the couple spent millions renovating the house but that it was she who “oversaw every aspect” of the three-year project. “Given the extraordinary efforts [she] contributed to the acquisition and renovation of the marital home she is requesting that it be awarded to her,” her lawyers argued in the document.

The house wasn’t just a place to hang their hats, her legal team asserts. “Their goal was to create a uniquely beautiful architectural space for the dual purposes of having a wonderful home in which to live and promoting their shared interests, both professional and personal.”

Contrary to his narrative, she asserts that they were more successful together than they had been individually. Team Podesta “strategically cultivated their public image, and worked to build the ‘Heather and Tony Podesta’ brand for the success of their shared enterprise,” wrote her powerhouse lawyers, Jonathan Dana, Marna Tucker and Michele Roberts.

As for the art, Heather wants to “equally divide” the trove of works, known internationally, she notes, as “The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection.” She takes issue with Tony Podesta’s handling of the collection after their separation, accusing him of giving away and lending artworks in their storage facility over her objections and in some cases “without taking adequate precautions to protect valuable pieces.” She claims he also locked her out of a database used to catalogue their holdings and has moved to sell some of their pieces at auction houses without her permission.

Heather asked the court to appoint a trustee to manage the art “pending a resolution of each party’s rights and interests” and to issue an order precluding any sales or loans.

Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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