The collapse of Tony Podesta’s $42-million-a-year lobbying and public relations firm in 2017 amid a federal investigation shook K Street and rendered him toxic — a rare Democratic victim of the Trump-era scandals.
But that was only the beginning of his troubles.
Mr. Podesta, long an outsized character in the influence industry and Democratic fund-raising, turned to his enormous collection of modern art for solace and income. But when the pandemic sent the art market reeling, he sold the penthouse condo in Washington he had been using to show and sell his collection, and secured a loan from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program for struggling small businesses.
Discussions about consulting gigs and a return to a fund-raising circuit that had turned its back on him were halted by a combination of his declining income, pandemic restrictions and an infection from knee surgery that left him hooked to an intravenous antibiotic drip for months.
To top it off, he said, his email accounts and website were frozen after Chinese cyberthieves launched a wide-ranging phishing campaign using one of his domain names.
Now Mr. Podesta is exploring a return to a landscape he once dominated.
The reception he gets could help answer some questions about life in Washington after Mr. Trump. Did the backlash to the open access-peddling and corporate influence of the Trump era result in brighter lines between corporate lobbying, fund-raising and governing? Or has the capital simply returned to the clubby culture in which lobbyist fund-raisers like Mr. Podesta held sway?
Early indicators are mixed.