During an appearance on CNN on Friday, former Obama-era Office of Government Ethics chief Walter Shaub called the White House’s arrangement allowing Hunter Biden to sell his art “the perfect mechanism for funneling bribes” to the president.
Shaub’s statement comes amid the development that the White House crafted a deal under which the price tags of Hunter Biden’s artwork sales, some listing as high as $500,000, will be obscured from the artist to prevent ethical violations.
Per the contract, New York gallery owner Georges Bergès will set the prices for the art and also will conceal related records such as prospective bidders and buyers. Bergès has promised to refuse extraordinary offers far exceeding the asking price or those that he deems suspect, sources first told the Washington Post.
The president’s son’s art sale, expected to be held this fall, has been subject to criticism amid concerns that the market he’s dabbling in has a reputation for corruption and shady business activity.
“They have outsourced government ethics to an art dealer. She mentioned industry standards,” Shaub said in reference to comments by White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “It’s an industry that’s notorious for money laundering. There’s no standards in that industry,” he said during the interview.
“The idea that they’re going to flag any overly priced offers — well, this is art that hasn’t even been juried into a community art sale. How are they going to decide what’s unreasonable when they’ve already priced it in the range of $75,000 to $500,000 for a first outing? This is just preposterous and very disappointing,” the Obama official said.
Psaki said during a press briefing Friday that Biden has every right to pursue a new career like any other previous president’s child. She said the White House’s appointing itself the intermediary in the arrangement would help the Biden family avoid running afoul of ethics concerns. Shaub disputed that.
When asked for his opinion on the White House decision, Shaub replied, “They’ve absolutely made it worse, for two reasons. One: What they’ve done is ensure that neither you nor I nor anyone watching this show will know who buys the art unless they share it publicly.
“There’s nothing we can do to monitor to make sure that Hunter Biden or anyone in the White House doesn’t find out that the dealer keeps his or her promise, that the buyers don’t call the White House, ask for a meeting, and say ‘Hey, I just bought the president’s son’s art for $500,000,’” he added.
Ethics experts have contended that Hunter Biden’s artwork wouldn’t have had the enormous price tag if not for his last name and family connection to the sitting executive. They have suggested that the buyers of his creations are unlikely to be real art-appreciating connoisseurs or collectors but rather individuals looking to purchase clout, preferential treatment, and influence.
“It’s got the absolute appearance that he’s profiting off his father’s fame. He’s not selling under a pseudonym, he’s not waiting until his father’s out of office, and he’s not selling at any price comparable to what other first-time artists are selling,” Shaub said.
“The problem is, now they’ve set a precedent for the next president. And even if you happen to trust Joe Biden, what if the next president has the character of a Donald Trump? This would be a perfect mechanism for funneling bribes to that president,” the former ethics head concluded.
Hunter Biden is already entrenched in a number of scandals and investigations, including one into his allegedly falsifying a firearm application form, his foreign business dealings, and his tax filings.