The former head of the federal government’s ethics office under Barack Obama rebuked White House press secretary Jen Psaki Wednesday, a day after she brushed off The Post’s questions about whether the identity of buyers for Hunter Biden’s art would remain anonymous.
The Post reported last week that five of the first son’s prints had sold for $75,000 apiece — and that prospective buyers attending an upcoming New York show were being vetted by a team of lawyers.
“I know this is your favorite topic, but it, again — it still is the purview of the gallerist,” Psaki said during her Tuesday briefing. “We still do not know and will not know who purchases any paintings. And the President remains proud of his son.”
The press secretary then cut off further inquiries about the matter by asking: “Did you have another question on something else? Otherwise, we’re going to move on to some other topics. Lots going on in the world.”
That response drew the ire of Walter Shaub, who directed the US Office of Government Ethics during Obama’s second term and left that post in the summer of 2017.
“These are legitimate questions,” Shaub began a lengthy Twitter thread. “It’s disappointing to hear [Psaki] send a message that the WH thinks the public has no right to ask about ethics. After the last 4 years, these questions have never been more important. I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but this stuff matters.”
Shaub and other ethics in government experts have repeatedly warned that the sale of Hunter Biden’s art was likely to draw the interest of prospective buyers seeking to curry favor with his father’s administration. The questions grew louder after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to India, attended the first son’s Hollywood showing earlier this month.
“There is no ethics program in the world that can be built around the head of state’s staff working with a dealer to keep the public in the dark about the identities of individuals who pay vast sums to the leader’s family member for subjectively priced items of no intrinsic value,” Shaub tweeted Wednesday. “If this were Trump, Xi [Jinping] or [Vladimir] Putin, you’d have no doubt whatsoever that this creates a vehicle for funneling cash to the first family in exchange for access or favors. Nor would you doubt that the appearance of monetizing the presidency was outrageous.”
A source told The Post last week that the Georges Berges Gallery had implemented the screening process ahead of the show, which has been delayed until earlier next year. It was unclear who hired the legal team performing the vetting.
Shaub, a frequent critic of former President Donald Trump, tweeted that while the 45th president’s ethical transgressions were “worse,” the distinction “doesn’t matter.”
“It’s all the worse because Biden ran as the antidote to Trump,” he said. “So the message is that this is not just better than Trump, which is far too low a standard, but that this is the opposite of Trump, which is even worse.”
President Biden himself was asked as he left the White House on Friday if he was concerned about potential corruption involving his son’s art sales.
Biden looked a reporter for The Post in the eyes and answered, “You gotta be kidding me.”
“Of course Hunter is a private citizen and can do whatever his conscience dictates,” Shaub tweeted. “But a patriot wouldn’t engage in this profiteering. And the president shouldn’t and his staff shouldn’t be tacitly enforcing it by defending it and pushing back against questions.”
The elder Biden’s links to his son’s business ventures often are murky.
When Biden was vice president, Hunter Biden took a reported $1 million-per-year job on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, despite no relevant industry experience, while his father led the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy.
And Hunter Biden still co-owns a Chinese investment firm that was formed 12 days after he joined his father aboard Air Force Two for a December 2013 trip to Beijing, according to recently reported business records. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company is co-owned by Chinese state-owned entities.
Documents and photos from a laptop that formerly belonged to Hunter Biden indicate that Joe Biden attended a 2015 dinner in DC with a group of his son’s associates — including a trio of Kazakhs and the Russian billionaire Yelena Baturina and her husband, ex-Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov. A Senate report released in September said a firm linked to Hunter Biden received $3.5 million from Baturina in 2014.
A photo depicts the elder Biden posing with the Kazakhstani group and one day later, Vadym Pozharskyi, an executive at Burisma, emailed the then-second son to thank him for the opportunity to meet his father.
Photos and emails published by The Post also indicate that Joe Biden in 2015 hosted his son and a group of Mexican business associates at the vice president’s official residence. In 2016, Hunter Biden apparently emailed one of those associates while aboard Air Force Two for an official visit to Mexico, complaining that he hadn’t received reciprocal business favors after “I have brought every single person you have ever asked me to bring to the F’ing White House and the Vice President’s house and the inauguration.”
A 2017 email recovered from Hunter Biden’s laptop described a 10 percent set-aside for “the big guy” as part of a prospective deal involving a Chinese energy company. Former Hunter Biden business partner Tony Bobulinski said Joe Biden was the “big guy.”
With reporting by Steven Nelson