The White House helped broker the deal that would allow buyers of Hunter Biden’s paintings to remain confidential, despite widespread concerns it could lead to bribery and influence peddling, it was revealed on Thursday.
The plan will allow Hunter Biden to forge ahead with his new career as an artist after a career change from a high-paid consultant on international deals, by also shielding him from the identities of those who purchase his pricey works.
The deal came about after Biden administration staffers reached out to Hunter’s lawyers to forge a plan intended to ‘avoid’ ethics concerns and let the president’s son pursue his new career.
But there are still questions over how the administration and his lawyers will stop individual buyers from reaching out to Hunter or someone revealing how much one of his paintings has been purchased for.
The idea is avoid a situation where he knew who was buying his work so he might be in the position to do them a favor – although it still provides an opportunity for unidentified individuals to shovel large sums to the president’s son as he battles high living costs and legal fees.
‘The whole thing is a really bad idea,’ ethics expert Richard Painter told the Washington Post, which revealed new details of the arrangement.
‘So instead of disclosing who is paying outrageous sums for Hunter Biden’s artwork so that we could monitor whether the purchasers are gaining access to government, the WH tried to make sure we will never know who they are. That’s very disappointing,’ tweeted ethics expert Walter Shaub.
‘The idea’s that even Hunter won’t know, but the WH has outsourced government ethics to a private art dealer. We’re supposed to trust a merchant in an industry that’s fertile ground for money laundering, as well as unknown buyers who could tell Hunter or WH officials? No thanks,’ the former director of the Office of Government Ethics in the Obama administration added.
The terms have been negotiated with Hunter’s lawyer as art shows in New York and his home of L.A. approach.
Experts are already warning of the risks of influence peddling or at least the appearance of ethical conflict when people buy paintings by the president’s son in a market where sales are already murky and prices extremely difficult to evaluate in an industry that can be used for money laundering.
Hunter’s New York art show is set for this fall, after his consulting work caused political headaches for the president during and after his campaign. Hunter also penned a memoir, Beautiful Things, that detailed his struggles with substance abuse and family trauma.
That negotiated structure is meant to keep Hunter Biden, who still communicates regularly with his father and travels with him, from knowing who is plunking down cash for his works, which are expected to be listed for prices ranging from $75,000 to as high as $500,000.
‘The initial reaction a lot of people are going to have is that he’s capitalizing on being the son of a president and wants people to give him a lot of money. I mean, those are awfully high prices,’ said Painter, who was a top ethics official in the George W. Bush administration.
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted about the arrangement, while flagging Hunter Biden’s past work as a hedge funder in China. ‘Some very tough ethical questions about whether the president’s son, who is still investing in CCP-linked firms, should take $500,000 in payment (bribes) for his “artwork.” Better consult the experts on this one!’
Walter Shaub, who headed the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration, ripped the arragnementSen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) compared it to bribery
Hunter would have to be informed at least of the value of sales of his paintings so that he could file accurate tax returns. Prosecutors in Delaware are already investigating his tax affairs. It was not clear that the public would ever be informed of the amounts Hunter earned from art sales.
Another part of the arrangement would warn White House officials not to give special treatment if a buyer’s identity becomes public.
Neither Hunter nor the White House would know who the buyers are, in an effort to prevent special treatment.
How the White House handles Hunter’s budding career is set to be an early ethics test, after Democrats and ethics groups condemned former President Donald Trump for bringing his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner into the White House as powerful unpaid advisors.
The Trump White House spent years fending off litigation and criticism over the president’s decision to maintain ownership of his business empire, including a luxury hotel in Washington, D.C.
‘The president has established the highest ethical standards of any administration in American history, and his family’s commitment to rigorous processes like this is a prime example,’ said White House spokesman Andrew Bates.
Another ethics expert, Norm Eisen, who is now at the Brookings Institution, told the Post ‘The basic presumption is adult kids are able to make a living . . . as long as a reasonable amount of distance is maintained from the White House.’
He said the White House shouldn’t be promoting an art show, for example, and cautioned aides to stay away from anything involving art sales.
Some art critics have given Hunter Biden props for the quality of work – outside of the potential ethics conflicts in the untrained artist’s new career.
‘I don’t paint from emotion or feeling, which I think are both very ephemeral,’ Biden told ArtNet. ‘For me, painting is much more about kind of trying to bring forth what is, I think, the universal truth.’
‘The colors and compelling organic forms – it’s the kind of organic abstraction that I find easy on the eyes and provokes your curiosity,’ chairman of the MFA Fine arts department at New York’s School of Visual Arts Mark Tribe told the New York Post.
President Barack Obama‘s ethics chief last month slammed Hunter Biden‘s ‘shameful and grifty’ sale of his art pieces for up to $500,000 to anonymous buyers as part of an upcoming exhibition that has already sparked bribery and potential money laundering fears.
Walter Shaub, the former Office of Government Ethics director, also warned that it could be a way for ‘influence seekers’ or foreign governments to funnel money to the Biden family.
Shaub, who recently called out Biden administration officials for hiring a slew of family members to a variety of positions, has urged Hunter and his art dealer Georges Berges to reveal the identity of the buyers so the public can see if the buyers are trying to get access to the White House.
He told Fox News: ‘The notion of a president’s son capitalizing on that relationship by selling art at obviously inflated prices and keeping the public in the dark about who’s funneling money to him has a shameful and grifty feel to it.’
‘Just as hotel charges and real estate purchases created a risk of unknown parties funneling money to the Trump family for potentially unsavory purposes, Hunter Biden’s grotesquely inflated art prices create a similar risk of influence-seekers funneling money to the Biden family,’ he added.
‘But I also think it’s ridiculous that Hunter Biden is even going forward with this sale as a first-time artist.
‘He can’t possibly think anyone is paying him based on the quality of the art. This smells like an attempt to cash in on a family connection to the White House.’
‘At a minimum, the president should be asking his son not to go through with this auction.’
Shaub also tweeted on Monday: ‘Let’s let foreign govts or anyone else funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously to POTUS’s relatives through subjectively priced commodities like hotel charges, real estate purchases and art. Oh wait, no, art is COMPLETELY different.’
The scandal-plagued first son, who has no professional background as an artist, will be selling off his artwork at a solo exhibition in New York City this fall.
Art dealers have already noted that Biden is likely profiting off his father’s name given the staggering price of his artwork, with one saying his art would more likely sell for as much as $100,000 if he wasn’t a Biden.
All sales of Biden’s artwork will be kept confidential – despite his alleged corruption over prior business deals in Ukraine and China.
It has raised concerns that buyers with nefarious interests could potentially pay for the pieces to try to get access to President Biden through his son.
There are also fears from some that the sales of Biden’s artwork could result in people using laundered money to buy them and anonymous buyers in places like Russia might try purchasing Biden’s son’s work to try and get around sanctions currently imposed in their countries.
In October 2020, the US Treasury Department issued a warning that high-value art sales could be used by individuals and countries forbidden from doing business in the US as a way of circumventing that ban.
The Treasury Department advisory warned that the anonymity afforded to art buyers made it harder to track such illegal activity. It also warned the same buyers could then potentially re-sell the same works in the United States, enabling them to take money out of the US and potentially fund activities such as terrorism.