Hunter Biden's Art Career Brings Ethics Concerns - Rolling Stone
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Obama Ethics Chief Scoffs at White House Plan to Keep Hunter Biden Art Sales Anonymous

Walter Shaub called the arrangement “preposterous and very disappointing”

Obama Ethics Chief Scoffs at White House Plan to Keep Hunter Biden Art Sales Anonymous

World Food Program USA Board Chairman Hunter Biden speaks at the World Food Program USA's Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)

Paul Morigi

The White House says it has created a system that will allow the president’s son, Hunter, to sell his artwork without knowing the name of the buyers to prevent anyone from trying to curry favor by purchasing a painting during a planned auction this fall. But former Obama ethics chief Walter Shaub called the arrangement “preposterous and very disappointing.”

Hunter Biden has pursued art as a career recently after writing a memoir about his struggles with substance abuse. He is also currently under investigation by the Department of Justice regarding his business dealings with China and other matters, although he maintains his innocence, saying in a December 2020 statement, “I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisors.”

The art arrangement will have Georges Bergès, the owner of the gallery hosting the auction, setting the prices, receiving all bids and selecting buyers, people familiar with the agreement told the Washington Post, which first reported the terms of the agreement. Bergès will also be responsible for keeping buyer information anonymous from both Hunter Biden and the White House and for denying sales to suspicious buyers and buyers who offer above asking price.

“All interactions regarding the selling of art and the setting of prices will be handled by a professional gallerist, adhering to the highest industry standards,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Friday. “And any offer out of the normal course would be rejected out of hand.”

Psaki added, “The gallerist will not share information about buyers or prospective buyers, including their identities, with Hunter Biden or the administration, which provides quite a level of protection and transparency.”

But Shaub, who served as director of the Office of Government Ethics under Obama, said that even with these safeguards in place, there’s no way to ensure shady deals don’t get made, starting with the prices the paintings are expected to fetch. “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,” Shaub said. “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.”

“They have outsourced government ethics to an art dealer,” Shaub said of the plan to have Bergès keep the sales anonymous and make the major decisions around who buys the paintings. “[Psaki] mentioned industry standards,” Shaub said. “It’s an industry that’s notorious for money laundering. There’s no standards in that industry.”

Shaub continued, saying that there is no way to guarantee the buyers will remain anonymous. “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.'”

And, Shaub added, this arrangement is setting a dangerous precedent. “Even if you happen to trust Joe Biden, what if the next president has the character of a Donald Trump?” Shaub said. “This would be a perfect mechanism for funneling bribes to that president.”

In This Article: Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, Walter Shaub

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