The White House is defending an unusual arrangement to keep the identities of purchasers of Hunter Biden
Critics are concerned that open-ended prices for art in a sale this fall will serve as a conduit for what amounts to lucrative bribes to the Biden administration
According to The Washington Post
, the Manhattan
gallery handling Biden's art, Georges Bergès, told CBS News
on Friday that Hunter Biden's paintings could sell for $75,000 to $500,000 each, despite the fact that Hunter Biden has no professional art training and has never sold art on the commercial market.
Officials at the White House believe that keeping buyers' identities hidden, including from President Joe Biden
and his son, would be a deterrent to such influence
; if no one knows who is paying big bucks for the artwork, they can't be rewarded with favors, they argue.
Critics, on the other hand, are skeptical.
“The whole thing is a really bad idea,” President George W. Bush’s former chief ethics
lawyer, Richard Painter
, told the Post. “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
. Those are awfully high prices.”
, former director of the Office
of Government Ethics in the Obama administration and at the start of the Trump administration
, stated that the environment
is ripe for corruption
and that transparency, not secrecy, is required — even if the Bidens are trustworthy.
“Because we don’t know who is paying for this art, and we don’t know for sure that [Hunter Biden] knows, we have no way of monitoring whether people are buying access to the White House,” Shaub told the Post.
The arrangement was defended by White House press secretary Jen Psaki
to reporters on Friday, according to The Hill.
“After careful consideration, a system has been established to allow Hunter Biden to work in his profession within reasonable safeguards,” she explained, adding, “He has the right to pursue an artistic career, just as any child
of a president has the right to pursue a career.”
Psaki stated that a professional gallery owner will set the prices for Biden's artwork and handle all transactions, and that any offer deemed suspicious or excessively high will be rejected. Buyers' identities will not be revealed, as first reported by the Washington Post on Thursday.
“Instead of disclosing who is paying outrageous sums for Hunter Biden’s artwork so that we can monitor whether the purchasers are gaining access to government,” Shaub tweeted, “the White House tried to ensure we will never know who they are. That’s very disappointing.”
“We're supposed to trust a merchant in an industry rife with money laundering, as well as unknown buyers who could inform Hunter or WH officials?” he added.
Many presidents have broken vows, and they should all be constrained by strict ethics regulations and transparency requirements, Shaub has argued.
A problem with bad ethical decisions is that they set precedents for future administrations. Even if you trust one President, can you trust the next? For example, suppose Don Jr.
sells a painting to a Saudi prince
for $500,000, and the next day the government begins approving new weapons sales to KSA. — Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 9, 2021
Now imagine the White House negotiated to keep the buyers' identities hidden, and you are asked to trust blindly that neither the dealer nor the buyers will tell Don Jr. who they are; then imagine he sells a dozen pieces at those prices, but you don't know the prince bought them before the arms deal. — Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 9, 2021
Are you sure you want to be defending the White House keeping art sales at extravagant prices a secret from us now that Don Jr. has cleared millions of dollars on art and the KSA has lots of new weapons to use on civilians in Yemen
in this hypothetical? — Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 9, 2021
The previous administration told us that no one in the White House would learn who stays at hotels run by a presidential relative; telling us that no one in the White House will learn who buys a relative's art seems like asking us for blind trust again. — Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 9, 2021