The White House has acknowledged helping to create a system for handling sales of artwork by presidential son Hunter Biden, saying the high-priced sales won’t influence President Biden because he won’t know the buyers’ identities.
“I think it would be challenging for an anonymous person who we don’t know and Hunter Biden doesn’t know to have influence,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. “So that’s a protection.”
Under the arrangement crafted with input from the president’s attorneys, New York art dealer Georges Berges will keep the names of bidders and buyers confidential from Hunter Biden. Mr. Berges has agreed to reject suspicious offers.
“Any offer out of the normal course would be rejected out of hand,” Ms. Psaki said.
Still, Hunter Biden and the White House seem to have an exaggerated sense of a “normal” price for a painting by a first-time artist. Hunter Biden never sold art before his father became president. His first showing will be in October at Mr. Berges’ gallery.
A total of 15 of Hunter Biden‘s paintings are to be sold at auction. Prices are expected to bring $75,000 to $500,000. A gallery typically receives about half of the share.
The development is raising ethics concerns that Hunter Biden is once again profiting from his father’s position and that buyers and potential third parties, including foreign governments involved in the transactions, might not remain anonymous.
Walter Shaub, who served as director of the Office of Government Ethics under Presidents Obama and Trump, said the arrangement is a bad idea.
“The president’s son is selling art at extravagant prices based on his ties to the president,” Mr. Shaub tweeted. “We have a White House that effectively blessed this profiting on a father’s public service by hinting that it didn’t seek disclosure of buyers’ names for fear of driving down prices. 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, the [White House] tried to make sure we will never know who they are. That’s very disappointing.”
He added, “Imagine you’re a Kremlin official looking for a way to embarrass the U.S. and one day you read that the White House negotiated with a private art dealer to keep secret the names of buyers who pay outrageous sums at an upcoming auction for artwork by the president’s lawyer son.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said the deal raises “some very tough ethical questions about whether the president’s son, who is still investing in [Chinese Communist Party]-linked firms, should take $500,000 in payment (bribes) for his ‘artwork.’”
Richard Painter, who served as an ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, tweeted, “Hunter could be the hottest artist since Andy Warhol. But perhaps Hunter should paint now and sell later, after dad leaves office. Just a suggestion.”
Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, an ally of Mr. Trump, said in a post on Twitter, “WTF!! This cannot be true! There are former local, state, and federal government officials that have gone to prison for far far less than this.”
Mr. Bush took up painting after leaving the White House. A book of his portraits of immigrants is now on sale for $38.
Mr. Berges will hold a private viewing of Hunter Biden’s paintings for VIP collectors at his gallery in Los Angeles in September.
“A lot of people say they can paint and do sculpture, but what I was concerned about was whether Hunter‘s work would be authentic,” Mr. Berges told the New York Post. “Everyone thinks that Hunter just landed on the art scene, but this has been years in the making.”
The gallery’s website says Hunter Biden “has been a lifelong artist that has devoted his artistic career to both the written word and the visual arts. A lawyer by trade who now devotes his life to the creative arts - he brings a myriad of experiences creating powerful and impactful pieces of art.”
Ms. Psaki defended the arrangement for the sales by saying Hunter Biden “has the right to pursue an artistic career, just like any child of a president has the right to pursue a career.”
“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,” she said. “The galleries 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.”
Federal prosecutors said in December that they had been investigating Hunter Biden‘s taxes dating back to 2018. The president’s son drew enormous criticism for taking a $3 million post with a Ukrainian energy company while his father served as vice president and handled diplomacy with Ukraine.
Hunter Biden also is still working to untangle his ownership stake in an investment firm linked to the Chinese government, Ms. Psaki said Friday. He has a 10% equity stake in Bohai Harvest RST Equity Investment Fund Management Co.
She said the same thing about the president’s son in February.
Asked whether the president was still unaware of his son’s business dealings, given reports to the contrary, Ms. Psaki replied dismissively, “The president does not discuss business dealings with family members, and otherwise I’m not going to respond to Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer.”
Mr. Giuliani, a former attorney for Mr. Trump, and his team have been at the forefront of raising questions about Hunter Biden’s international business dealings.
Hunter Biden’s resignation from the board of the Chinese firm was submitted to China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System in the spring of 2020, but he reportedly still holds nearly $500,000 worth of shares in the Chinese venture.