[guest post by JVW]
Hunter Biden’s artistic debut is sparking ethics concerns for the White House as some critics raise eyebrows over the high-priced pieces and whether they pose a conflict of interest.
Sources told CNN the White House was involved in forming an agreement between a SoHo New York Gallery owner, Georges Bergès, and Hunter Biden in an effort to address any ethics concerns.
[. . .]
Two sources familiar with the sales arrangement told CNN that the purchaser of the artwork will be kept anonymous and neither Hunter Biden nor the public will have knowledge of who bid on or purchased the work. If there is any unusual behavior – such as the offer price being too high or the collector doesn’t appear interested in the work – the gallery is expected to turn down the offer, the sources said.
However, there’s no clear enforcement mechanism for the standards agreed upon by the gallery and the prospective purchasers of Hunter Biden originals.
[. . .]
Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for the White House, said in a statement that “the President has established the highest ethical standards of any administration in American history, and his family’s commitment to rigorous processes like this is a prime example.”
On Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Hunter Biden “has the right” to pursue a new 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 professional standards,” she said. “And any offer out of the normal course would be rejected out of hand, and the gallerist 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.”
On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden pledged that there would be an “absolute wall” between his official duties and his family’s private business interests. The Biden White House repeatedly made reference to that wall when responding to questions about the fledgling art career of Hunter Biden, the president’s son. In 2021, when a New York art gallery debuted Hunter Biden’s paintings with asking prices as high as $500,000, the White House said that his team had a process for carefully vetting buyers, and that their identities were known only to the gallery, and not to Hunter Biden himself. The messaging seemed to suggest that his art patrons came from a rarified universe of collectors who had nothing to do with the hurly-burly of politics.
Neither of those things has turned out to be the case. Hunter Biden did, in fact, learn the identity of two buyers, according to three people directly familiar with his own account of his art career. And one of those buyers is indeed someone who got a favor from the Biden White House. The timing of their purchase, however, is unknown.
That buyer, Insider can reveal, is Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali, a Los Angeles real-estate investor and philanthropist. Hirsh Naftali is influential in California Democratic circles and a significant Democratic donor who has given $13,414 to the Biden campaign and $29,700 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year. In 2022, she hosted a fundraiser headlined by Vice President Kamala Harris.
Insider also obtained internal documents from Hunter Biden’s gallery showing that a single buyer purchased $875,000 worth of his art. The documents do not indicate the buyer’s identity, which is also unknown to Insider at this time.
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In an emailed statement, Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s counsel, said that his client learned the identities of Hirsh Naftali and a second buyer after they had purchased his art through his gallery because they were his friends. “The gallery sets the pricing and handles all sales based on the highest ethical standards of the industry, and does not disclose the names of any purchasers to Mr. Biden,” Lowell wrote.
“Names of buyers are strictly confidential,” Georges Bergès, Hunter Biden’s gallerist, wrote in an email. “Any attempt to get them is illegal and will be reported to the proper authorities.”
Hunter Biden’s Manhattan art dealer said Tuesday that he never worked with the White House on an ethics pact to ensure buyers would remain anonymous — and added that the top purchasers were known to the first son, contrary to prior claims from President Biden’s aides.
Georges Bergès also revealed that in addition to the lack of supposed anti-corruption safeguards he actually met and spoke on the phone with the president while repping his son, the House Oversight Committee said in a readout of a closed-door deposition.
The art dealer testified that Hunter, 53, knew who bought about 70% of his art — including Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali, who obtained works by the first son both before and after scoring a prestigious presidential appointment.
Bergès disclosed that he personally interacted with Joe Biden on multiple occasions, including at a closed-to-the-press White House wedding for Hunter’s daughter Naomi in 2022.
[. . .]
Hirsh Naftali, who scored repeated visits to the White House during the timeframe in question, inked a $42,000 sale in February 2021, before her appointment that July by Joe Biden to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and then another for $52,000 in December 2022.
Bergès also confirmed that the first son was aware that Hollywood lawyer Kevin Morris, who met Hunter at a political fundraiser in December 2019 before bankrolling his tax payments and living expenses, was his top patron, buying $875,000 worth of art in a January 2023 deal.
So there you have it, this looks pretty much as bad as we figured it would. Despite Jen Psaki’s lies to the contrary, the White House never reached an arrangement with the gallery to draw a curtain between the buyer and the [cough, cough] artist. The gallery claimed to be holding to that non-existent arrangement, but when faced with having to testify under oath the gallery owner readily admitted that Hunter knew the purchaser of most of his [please don’t make me use this word] art. And finally, we know now for certain not only that Biden appointee Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali purchased Hunter Biden’s [sigh] masterpieces before she received her appointment to the art commission, but also that Hunter’s sugar daddy, Kevin Morris — the lawyer who “loaned” Hunter $2 million to help pay his tax debt and penalties — has coughed up nearly nine hundred large to [ahem] invest in the future appreciation in value of pieces from a tyro crackhead artist.
These people are so unbelievable in their brazenness, but they have always known that a pliant media and a deeply ridiculous art community would have their back. Look now for a Biden defense predicated upon a combination of “Hunter is a legitimate artist,” “the gallery sets its prices without taking into account the possibility of corruption,” and “the President was never told the identity of any of the buyers.” All of these will be lies, but they will get away with them.