The White House is defending an unusual arrangement to keep the identity of buyers of Hunter Biden’s artwork secret.
Critics fear that open-ended prices for the art in a sale this fall could provide a conduit for what amounts to lucrative bribes to influence the Biden administration.
The Manhattan gallery handling Biden’s art, Georges Bergès, told CBS News on Friday that Hunter Biden’s paintings could fetch between $75,000 and $500,000 each, even though Hunter Biden has no professional art training and has never before sold art on the commercial market, according to The Washington Post.
White House officials believe keeping the identities of buyers secret, including from President Joe Biden and his son, would be a barrier to such influence. If no one knows who’s paying big bucks for the artwork, they can’t be rewarded with favors, they argue.
But critics aren’t convinced.
“The whole thing is a really bad idea,” Richard Painter, who was chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, 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.”
Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics in the Obama administration and at the start of the Trump administration, said that the setup is ripe for corruption and that it’s transparency, not secrecy, that’s needed — 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. “What these people are paying for is Hunter Biden’s last name.”
“After careful consideration, a system has been established to allow Hunter Biden to work in his profession within reasonable safeguards,” she said. “He has the right to pursue an artistic career, just like any child of a president has the right to pursue a career.”
Psaki said a professional gallery owner will set prices on Biden’s artwork and handle all transactions. Any offer deemed suspect or too high will be rejected, she said. Buyers’ identities will not be revealed, which the Post first reported Thursday.
“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,” Shaub tweeted, “the WH tried to make sure we will never know who they are. That’s very disappointing.”
He added: “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.”
No president deserves blind trust — nor do gallery owners — Shaub warned. Many presidents have broken vows, and they should all be constrained by strict ethics regulations and transparency requirements, he has argued.