Steve October 14, 2021
ex-ethics-chief-rips-jen-psaki’s-‘disappointing’-brush-off-of-hunter-biden-art-questions

Walter Shaub, former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, on Wednesday delivered a stinging rebuke of White House press secretary Jen Psaki after she appeared to dismiss concerns surrounding the sale of artworks created by President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

Shaub, via a lengthy thread on Twitter, slammed Psaki’s response as “disappointing.”

“These are legitimate questions,” Shaub wrote. “After the last 4 years, these questions have never been more important. I know this isn’t a popular opinion, but this stuff matters.”

He added: “It doesn’t matter that Trump was worse. What matters is that this sets a low bar for ethics.”

During Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Psaki brushed off questions from a New York Post reporter about whether the buyers of Hunter Biden’s art would remain anonymous after the Post reported that lawyers were vetting prospective attendees of a showing of his works.

“There’s lots going on in the world” — Jen Psaki didn’t have much patience for a New York Post reporter asking her about Hunter Biden’s art sales pic.twitter.com/6gV3lUPYPP

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 12, 2021

“I know this is your favorite topic,” Psaki responded to the reporter. “But it, again, it still is the purview of the gallerist. We still do not know and will not know who purchases any paintings. And the president remains proud of his son.”

Psaki then asked the reporter if he had “another question on something else,” because “otherwise, we’re going to move on to some other topics. Lots going on in the world.”

Shaub expressed his frustration at the ethics issues raised by Hunter Biden’s art sale in the first place, and at Psaki’s response. The concerns were “all the worse because Biden ran as the antidote to Trump,” he wrote.

Critics fear the unusual agreement to keep the identities of art buyers secret may allow them to curry favor with the Biden White House. The White House argues it can’t favor people who are anonymous.

“Many Twitter users have made clear they hate hearing this,” Shaub acknowledged. “But it is objectively bad. It would be better not to pretend this isn’t bad. Those individuals should just admit that, like Trump supporters, they don’t care about ethics when their guy is in charge.”

The conflict isn’t comparable “to the corruption of the Trump admin,” Shaub added. Nevertheless, it was “a failure to lift the nation out of the mire into which Trump sunk it.”

“Sure, we sit much less deeply in the muck,” Shaub wrote. “But muck isn’t what we deserve.”

Read Shaub’s full thread here:

These are legitimate questions. It’s disappointing to hear @jrpsaki 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. https://t.co/fnGmbkLQZU

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

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.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

If this were Trump, Xi or 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.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

It doesn’t matter that Trump was worse. What matters is that this sets a low bar for ethics. It embraces the mentality that “if it’s legal, it’s fine to do.” It creates doubt that the difference in administrations is one of nature instead of merely degree.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

When I blasted Trump for not divesting, I mentioned how developing nations in particular studied our ethics program for ideas. The idea we are sharing here is that family members profiting off the presidency is acceptable and even defended by the head of state.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

It’s all the worse because Biden ran as the antidote to Trump. 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.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

Of course Hunter is a private citizen and can do whatever his conscience dictates. 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.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

It’s not like Hunter, who is a millionaire would have to sleep on a steam grate if he couldn’t sell art at these outrageous prices. He could be a lawyer, hedge fund manager, or beach goer. Yet the White House seems to see some entitlement to capitalize on his connection to it.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

And so White House staffers hide things from us. They arranged to hide the names of buyers, leaving members of the public unable to monitor anther the buyers gain access to government officials after major purchases. They hide the details of the arrangement too.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

They won’t tell us who is on this mysterious “team of lawyers” now vetting buyers are or, in a town where lawyers charge $1,100 per hour, who’s paying for them. They won’t tell us what criteria they’re using. Is $523,000 to much but $500,000 just fine?

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

They told us Hunter wouldn’t know who the buyers are. Then the media discovered he was attending the showings. But they emphasized that no prospective buyers would be dealing with the government. Then a man who’s up for an administration job was caught at the showing.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

And of course the buyers aren’t subject to the terms of the secret agreement that has thus far been concealed from public view. So whatever it says, they are free to shout from the rooftops that they own the president’s son’s art. Why else would they spend that much?

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

When asked if it’d be better to let the public know who the buyers are so they can monitor things (it would!), a WH staffer told the Wash Post that knowing buyers would be identified my “restrict” interest in the art — i.e. reduce the profits. So the WH endorses the profiteering.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

Now, look, many Twitter users have made clear they hate hearing this. But it is objectively bad. It would be better not to pretend this isn’t bad. Those individuals should just admit that, like Trump supporters, they don’t care about ethics when their guy is in charge.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

And, no, I’m not saying this is comparable to the corruption of the Trump admin. It’s not even close. I’m saying that this is a failure to lift the nation out of the mire into which Trump sunk it. Sure, we sit much much less deeply in the muck. But muck isn’t what we deserve.

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 13, 2021

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