Episode 95, with guests Bob Barnett and Jessica Mindich

Bob Barnett and Jessica Mindich are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: March 30, 2013 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm.
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My presidential radar (my praydar) needs a tune-up.

The par 3 8th hole at El Camaleon

Former White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert and I were playing golf this week on the Greg Norman-designed El Camaleón in Rivera Maya, Mexico when a ferocious downpour interrupted play after the 9th hole. We sought refuge in the clubhouse, where I bee-lined my soaking torso toward the plush sofas situated in front of the lounge TV and plopped myself down next to a distinguished-looking gentleman about my age. We both nibbled at the refreshments placed before us by the attentive staff. He was drinking tea, I had a beer.

Within a few moments, people began appearing next to my seat mate. One person showed him something on an iPad. Another person handed him a cell phone for a quick, cryptic conversation in Spanish. I expanded my field of vision. At the periphery of the lounge were three men and one women, dressed casually enough in Banana Republicky khakis for a walking tour of nearby Chichen Itza, but too layered for 18 holes on an equatorial golf course. Golfers, they were not. And those black ballistic canvas satchels in their hands? They didn’t look like camera bags.

I’ve staffed enough of Bill Clinton’s golf outings over the years that I should have picked up immediately on the presence of the shift of the presidential security detail protecting my seatmate, Enrique Peña Nieto, the 57th and current President of Mexico. The bags in their hands were quick-release covers for automatic weapons. To be honest, I totally missed it, focused more on my botching of holes 3, 6 and 9 to be properly attuned to PoliCelebrity spotting.

It wasn’t until Jake and I ventured back into the rain to play the back nine (with our families back at the resort, we didn’t have the luxury of spending the afternoon in the clubhouse) that the idling presidential helicopter on the driving range confirmed I had just been channel surfing the Golf Channel with the Mexican head of state.

Later in the afternoon, back by the pool, I saw that the White House announced that President Obama would visit President Peña Nieto in May, along with a stop in Costa Rica. It remains to be seen what events will populate the President’s schedule when Air Force One heads South five weeks from now, but a round with Peña Nieto on the links of El Camaleón might provide enough time for the two presidents to discuss the range of bilateral issues facing the neighboring nations. And if there’s a rain delay, they could always chopper over to Chichen Itza.

(For the record, Peña Nieto bagged the remainder of his round rather than brave the fierce elements of the Yucatan — his chopper buzzed over us as we made our way to the 11th tee).

* * *

Another bit of news that hit while we were in Mexico was the return to the public stage of former CIA Director David Petraeus with a speech at the University of Southern California. The particular optics of Petraeus’s exit from Langley last November made his reentrance a narrower than normal needle to thread for his career counselor and lawyer, Bob Barnett, our conversation with whom was taped before his client returned to the headlines.

Bob Barnett & Rita Braver

Whether the client is at the apex of popularity, such as Hillary Clinton, or at the nadir, such as Petraeus, Barnett’s approach toward managing a transition from public to private life remains consistent, an approach he describes in our chat.

I’ve known Bob for many years. He was introduced to me by his wife, CBS News correspondent Rita Braver, who covered the Clinton White House in the 1990s. His trajectory from high school debate champion in Waukegan, Illinois to power broker in Washington, DC would itself be a fascinating autobiography spanning a storied career and equally compelling era inside the Beltway. But Bob is too discreet about the specifics of his work for his clients to put the facts between covers of a book.

* * *

The last time we vacationed in Mexico was 2008, on the Pacific side of the country in Punta Mita. Our companions for that trip were Mark and Jessica Mindich who, at the time, lived a mile or two away from us in Hartford, Connecticut.

Jessica Mindich, Taylor Swift and Cory Booker in Newark, New Jersey, March 28, 2012

Our two families have both moved on from Hartford, but Jessica has moved on in more ways than one. When we were neighbors, she and my wife were both mothers of two very young children. I knew that Jessica had graduated from law school and worked in a tech firm in Baltimore before she and Mark had arrived in Connecticut but, in the Hartford days, family had the full focus of Jessica’s life. And yet it was clear that, at some point, she would reenter the work force. But how?

A few years ago, Jessica launched Jewelry for a Cause, based on the proven business model that charitable organizations can raise money more effectively if they have an item that people actually want to buy.

The business advanced at the usual slow start-up pace until Jessica attended a conference at which the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, was speaking (Booker and Jessica’s husband, Mark, both attended Yale Law together). Booker had a problem: he wanted to expand a gun buy-back program to get weapons off the street of his city, but had no money to offer the $200 bounty proffered for each piece. Jessica had a solution: smelt some of the existing inventory into molten steel and hammer it into a new existence as jewelry. The result: the Caliber Collection, bangles and cuffs made from firearms in the possession of the Newark Police Department.

An item from the Caliber Collection

The business took off, boosted by publicity in the New York Times, Time and by Mayor Booker’s appearances on television, among many other outlets, promoting the reuse of his city’s unique surplus. It’s a very attractive story. In an environment where everyone is looking for a shred of silver lining from the tragedies of Tucson, Aurora and Newtown — and the thousands of lesser-reported incidents of gun violence before and since — the Caliber Collection is a magnet for coverage.

When we caught up to Jessica, she was in a car from her home in Connecticut to the Prudential Center in Newark, the latest stop in the Red Tour of this month’s Vanity Fair cover girl Taylor Swift. As you can see from the photo above, Mindich and Booker got their girl. Another shot shows Taylor sporting one of Jessica’s bangles, another bullseye in the Jewelry for a Cause publicity broadside.

The bracelets cost between $150 and $1,275 for a version studded with eight mini diamonds. Earlier this year, Jessica presented Booker with a check for $40,000, his city’s share of the take from this first run and enough to get 200 more guns off the street at $200 per. There’s a long way to go to scale up the Caliber Collection to make an appreciable dent in the availability of guns on the nation’s streets, but every movement of significance starts with a silver (or, in this case, steel or brass) lining.

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