Former Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states California Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden picks Harris as running mate MORE campaign chairman John Podesta hit back at the crude and wide-ranging conspiracy theory dubbed "Pizzagate," which falsely accuses him of egregious offenses including pedophilia.

"It’s painful and crazy,” Podesta told Rolling Stone in his first extended remarks on the subject. “I’m pretty grizzled. One big difference is you’ve got somebody sitting in the Oval Office stoking the conspiracy. That’s pretty different than what I’ve experienced in my years in politics.”


The Pizzagate conspiracy theory posited that high-ranking Democrats, including Podesta, were involved in a child sex-trafficking circle. In December 2016, a man motivated by the conspiracy theory fired a gun in Comet Pizza, a Washington, D.C., restaurant that also featured heavily in the conspiracy theory.

Podesta's name was roped into the conspiracy theory after WikiLeaks released a trove of hacked emails from Podesta and other Democrats. The theory's adherents accused Podesta of planning and promoting criminal activity through coded language in the emails. 

Podesta told the magazine that he considered bringing charges, but ultimately decided against it.

“If I really spent my life trying to figure out what those people were saying, it would drive me nuts,” he says. “The only rational reaction to that is to deal with it when there’s something serious and right in front of you, but for the most part to try to ignore it.”

The longtime Democratic strategist said that he tries to not let the trolls win, but it has made him more hesitant to speak publicly.

“You’re conscious about the notion that you are going to trigger a crazy response,” Podesta said. “Sometimes you feel compelled to do it anyway. And I don’t do it for fun. I do it when I think something’s serious enough that I need to say something."

"And now I’m just a little bit more guarded it, and guarded about what appearances I accept," he added.

Podesta said that his wife answers the phone and talks to Pizzagate fanatics when they call the house with threats. 

"She sits on the phone and talks to them, which is disconcerting actually to most of the people who are calling just to leave a nasty message on your voicemail,” Podesta said. “When somebody actually engages them and says, ‘Why are you doing this?’ they fold pretty quickly. But she has more patience for that than I do.”

Rolling Stone also spoke to James Alefantis, the owner of the pizza restaurant stormed in 2016 by a Pizzagate-inspired gunman. The gunman was sentenced last year to four years in prison.

“I’ve been through a lot of Washington sh-t in my life,” Alefantis told Rolling Stone. “This is not my first time at the rodeo. I had never seen this volume of specific, directed attacks.”

Alefantis said that he is still stalked, harassed and even sometimes followed in public due to his association with Pizzagate.

“For me, at some point, I was like: My name is totally destroyed,” Alefantis said. “I just didn’t want anyone to come shoot us up again.”

“Previous to this, I was out in the world and I had nothing but glowing Google hits and my restaurants were easily reviewed,” Alefantis added. “Now, it’s nothing but filth, basically. When I go into a business meeting or do a new venture or go into a new relationship with someone serious, there are major issues. It’s destroyed my name.”