The Controversy Surrounding Hunter Biden's Art Career: 'We Don't Know Who is Paying For This Art'
Hunter, 51, is expected to hold an art sale this fall where his own work will be available for purchase. New York gallery owner Georges Bergès has been tasked with pricing the pieces of art and withholding all sales records (including the name of the purchaser) under a recently negotiated arrangement, according to The Washington Post.
The Post reports the agreement will keep the sales information confidential from even Hunter Biden himself.
Asked whether the White House played a role in crafting that sales agreement, as the Post alleged in its reporting, Press Secretary Psaki said "all interactions regarding the selling" of Hunter's artwork will be handled by a professional art gallerist.
"I can tell you that after careful consideration, a system has been established that allows for Hunter Biden to work in his profession within reasonable safeguards," Psaki said, speaking to reporters at a briefing on Friday. "Of course, he has the right to pursue an artistic career, just like any child of a president has the right to pursue a career. But 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."
Psaki added that "any offer out of the normal course would be rejected out of hand," and the gallerist would not share any information regarding buyers or potential buyers with either Hunter Biden or the administration.
Though designed to avoid potential ethical issues, the deal is already raising the eyebrows of some experts. Walter Shaub, who headed the Office of Government Ethics from 2013 to 2017, is among those criticizing the reported deal.
"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."
Sources tell the Post that as part of the agreement, Bergès will reject offers he considers suspicious or above the asking price. Still, some pieces of art could go for as much as $500,000, per the report.
Experts are split on the ethics behind the matter. On one side, some believe presidents are limited in their ability to control their children's careers. Norm Eisen, who developed White House ethics rules under President Barack Obama, is among them.
"The basic presumption is adult kids are able to make a living … as long as a reasonable amount of distance is maintained from the White House," Eisen told the Post. "That means things like the White House should not be promoting the art show, which as far as I know they're not doing."
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Eisen said he would caution White House aides from engaging in the sale of art. Additionally, he suggests the president and first lady Jill Biden steer clear of appearing to promote said work.
Other experts, like Shaub, continue to raise red flags about transparency.
Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush, also bashed the concept, which he believes is bad optics for both Biden and the presidency.
"The whole thing is a really bad idea," 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. I mean, those are awfully high prices."
Hunter is no stranger to controversy and, in an October 2019 interview with Good Morning America, admitted to exercising "poor judgment" regarding his past business ties, especially considering his dad's line of work, but claimed he did not "do anything improper."
"Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yeah," he said. "But did I make a mistake based upon some ethical lapse? Absolutely not," Hunter told GMA.
For his part, the president has repeatedly defended his son, such as during a September debate with former President Donald Trump.
Hunter has leaned on painting in wake of the increased scrutiny he faced during the 2020 election as he found himself at the center of numerous conservative conspiracy theories. In a March interview with The New York Times, he said the hobby "puts my energy toward something positive."
Painting also helps to keep him centered in the wake of a widely-reported crack cocaine addiction and trips he has said he took to rehab "seven or eight times" along the way. He told the Times that the craft "keeps me away from people and places where I shouldn't be."
Now, it is serving another significant purpose. "The one thing I have left is my art," Hunter told the Times. "It's the one thing they can't take away from me or conflate with anything else."
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