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President Joe Biden's promise to head the most transparent administration if he won the election is proving to be harder for him to keep now that he is in the White House.
Press access has improved compared to former President Donald Trump's era with regular briefings. But Biden's tendency to make exceptions for his family, particularly his son Hunter Biden, has exacerbated possible conflicts of interest. And the tendency of his aides to be tight-lipped has created concerns after revelations regarding breakthrough COVID-19 cases at the White House.
For Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Hunter Biden's debut art shows in September could be problematic if protocols the White House has touted to mitigate risk are not enforceable.
"If there is no effective enforcement mechanism in place to keep buyers from self-disclosing after the sales take place, not only could their self-disclosure cause the White House potential embarrassment, but it could also raise potential questions about whether the buyers were indeed trying to gain undue influence," Canter told the Washington Examiner. "At a minimum, sales to foreign governments and their agents should be prohibited."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has dismissed inquiries regarding Hunter Biden's art shows as hyperventilation. She has insisted that representatives of the Los Angeles and New York galleries exhibiting the younger Biden's work will shield the identities of bidders, as well as the final buyers and prices paid to avoid conflicts.
The former lobbyist and entrepreneur-turned-amateur artist's pieces have been valued at between $75,000 to $500,000. Any offer "out of the normal course" will be rejected, Psaki told reporters this month.
"He has the right to pursue an artistic career just like any child of a president," she said at the time. "It would be challenging for an anonymous person who we don't know and Hunter Biden doesn't know to have influence."
Last week, Psaki defended the sales agreement, which she did not confirm was in writing or whether it will be released to the public, when it emerged the younger Biden plans on attending some of the events. He will not talk about selling his art with the guests, she said.
"That will be left to the gallerist," she added.
The first and second families are not bound by the same laws and regulations preventing federal employees profiting from their positions. And six months into his presidency, Joe Biden has already been criticized for treading dangerously close to the ethical line by, for instance, commenting on his son's memoir in a statement and during interviews. His remarks could have helped promote the book, published in April, critics contend.
The White House has also been grilled for breakthrough COVID-19 infection data after it was reported a staffer contracted the respiratory illness, despite being fully vaccinated.
Psaki became defensive last week when peppered on breakthrough cases among the roughly 2,000 people who work on the executive campus.
"Why do you need to have that information?" she asked. "There's a range of means our public health officials are tracking, across the country, across D.C., across any individuals here about who is vaccinated, who is getting the virus, getting hospitalized."
Every employee has been "offered" a vaccine, Psaki said, though she did not clarify how many had received their shot or shots. Instead, Psaki repeated the White House will only proactively disclose breakthrough infections diagnosed in "anyone who has had close proximity contact with the president or any of the four principals," known as commissioned officers.
"If they approve having their name released, we will also release their names, but we will protect their privacy," she said.
The White House was similarly cagey with the number of migrants who applied for asylum or illegally crossed the southern border during the surge recorded in the first few months of Biden's administration. Aides declined to share photos of facilities taken for the president and delayed tours for news outlets to obtain their own images and footage.
Joe Biden's brother Frank Biden and son-in-law Howard Krein have contributed to his transparency headaches as well.
Frank Biden's law firm, the Berman Group, celebrated the president's inauguration with an advertisement linking the two men. And Yosi Health executives asked Krein's health tech venture capital firm, StartUp Health, for assistance last year as they prepared to pitch their COVID-19 vaccine software to government officials. Krein is married to the president's daughter Ashley.
The tapping of top Biden staffers' spouses and children have simultaneously raised eyebrows.
For example, Steve Ricchetti is a presidential counselor to Biden. Ricchetti's daughter Shannon is in the White House Office of the Social Secretary and his son Daniel is a senior adviser to the State Department Office of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security. His brother Jeff lobbied the National Security Council on behalf of General Motors, according to second financial quarter documents.
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Original Author: Naomi Lim