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In the midst of his campaign for president, Joe Biden took his younger brother, Frank, aside to issue a warning.
“For Christ’s sake, watch yourself,” Biden said of his brother’s potential business dealings, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. “Don’t get sucked into something that would, first of all, hurt you.”
Biden, whose tone was both “jocular and serious,” according to the person, seemed to know then what is becoming plainly obvious now: His family’s business ties threatened to undermine an administration whose messaging is centered on restoring integrity in the White House.
Relatives’ money-making ventures, most prominently his son Hunter’s overseas dealings, have long dogged Biden. But it's taking on a new dimension now that he's in the White House.
Only a week into his presidency, Biden already has had to answer for matters related to his family. A law firm ad promoting Frank Biden’s relationship with the president caused a stir when it ran on Inauguration Day. A federal investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, has invited scrutiny of just how strict a firewall he’ll keep between the White House and the Justice Department. And another of the president’s brothers, James, has previously come under fire for his business dealings.
Florida super attorney and Democratic donor John Morgan said business sensitivities were coursing through Bidenworld this week after the report about Frank Biden’s law firm.
“What Frank told me is ‘my brother loves me dearly, but if I lobbied, he would cut my legs from underneath me,” Morgan said Frank Biden told him this week.
The intent of Joe Biden’s initial conversation, according to the person with knowledge of the discussion, was to protect Frank from “being hurt and vilified” in the event his big brother, “Joey,” was elected to the most powerful position in the world.
“Frank made it clear to me what the president made clear to him: The day he got elected, the long knives came out for all things Biden,” Morgan said. “There’s a target on all of them.”
One person interested in working with Frank Biden was Morgan himself, a fellow Floridian who is close to the younger Biden.
“Great guy,” Morgan said of Frank Biden. “I had my jet take him to the inauguration.”
Morgan said he’d started talking with Frank Biden about business opportunities last year but that nothing had come together yet. “We are talking about him doing some things inside the law firm,” Morgan said, referring to his firm, Morgan & Morgan, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Injury Law Firm.”
Any partnership would have a “100 percent legal focus” and wouldn’t involve any lobbying, Morgan added.
There is no evidence of wrongdoing tied to their discussions or violations of ethics rules. Frank Biden is a private citizen. Morgan does not lobby the federal government.
Frank Biden is not a lawyer but works as a senior adviser at another Florida-based law firm, the Berman Law Group. Morgan is a prominent Democratic donor who gave $355,000 to the Biden Victory Fund in August, according to campaign finance records.
Frank Biden’s business partner, Joe Abruzzo, was also involved in a preliminary discussion about the potential business with Morgan and Frank Biden, but pulled out after he was elected Palm Beach County clerk of the circuit court and comptroller.
“As a businessman for years, Frank is inundated with offers and opportunities,” said Abruzzo, who is also one of Frank’s closest friends. “He tends to focus on what he is passionate about: education and social justice issues.”
He added, “John and Frank are good friends and it is not surprising to those who know them that they have engaged in conversations.”
A source with knowledge of the conversations said Thursday, “It is extremely unlikely that there is going to be any business arrangement between Frank Biden and John Morgan.”
Renewed discussion about Biden’s family business ties come after a campaign in which former President Donald Trump relentlessly hammered Hunter Biden for his past dealings in China and Ukraine. Asked about his family’s business ties on the campaign trail in 2019, Biden, then the Democratic front-runner, vowed he would build an “absolute wall” between the White House and his relatives. He also pledged that, if elected, no one in his family would serve on foreign boards. In December, Hunter Biden acknowledged an existing federal investigation into his taxes.
Though nothing was in place, word of the discussions between Morgan and Frank Biden have bounced around Biden's orbit after he won the presidential election. One person in Bidenworld took calls from senior Biden campaign officials, Florida lobbyists and Washington insiders who had all gotten wind of the conversations. Most expressed shock that Frank Biden was so quickly engaged in talks about new business opportunities, given the uproar his professional dealings caused during his brother’s presidential campaign, the person said.
Frank Biden has long run business ventures in Florida, including with charter schools, and has told others he has no intention of taking on any new work in Washington, D.C. He remains with Berman Law Group and is involved in the firm’s work fighting against sugar companies that burn sugar cane as part of their business practice.
Frank’s work on the case drew headlines this week after CNBC reported the law firm was touting his relationship with his brother, the new president, in an advertisement.
“My brother is a model for how to go about doing this work,” Frank Biden says in an ad that ran in the Daily Business Review, according to the CNBC report. “One of his central tenets is that one should never question another man’s or woman’s motives or assign blame to them. That way, you avoid creating a disparity that prevents any kind of coming together. You can of course question someone’s judgment, and that’s what we’re doing by bringing this to court.”
Asked about the ad on Thursday, a White House official said, “It is this White House’s policy that the President’s name should not be used in connection with any commercial activities to suggest, or in any way that could reasonably understood to imply, his endorsement or support.”