Shocking: CNN Lets Obama Ethics Chief Slam Secret Hunter Art Sale

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On rare occasions, CNN will conduct an act of journalism. Friday, the network had on Walter Shaub, former ethics chief under President Obama, to call out the White House for secretly working out a deal to sell First Son Hunter Biden’s artwork. Even the hosts didn’t bother to try to defend the unethical move, despite putting all their effort in before the election to discount the Hunter laptop scandal.

CNN’s New Day picked up on the story after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was pressed about the dubious deal at yesterday’s briefing. Co-host Brianna Keilar noted the deal was “raising ethical questions about possible influence peddling,” as the artwork’s bidders were set to meet with the younger Biden. She asked Shaub, who ran the Office of Government Ethics from 2013-2017 why he called the move, “outsourcing government ethics to an art dealer.”

Shaub explained that while the gallerist was supposed to keep Biden’s name a secret, he would actually be at the showings meeting with bidders: “Really what he’s doing is keeping a secret from the public because eventually the–Hunter Biden or people in the White House will learn who it’s going to be.” 

He added, “So they left that detail out when they told us they had no way of knowing who was buying his art.”

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Co-host John Avlon asked Shaub to explain how art is different than another hobby of a president’s child, for instance, and what the “right way” to have done this might look like.

Stating the obvious, Shaub explained how artwork can sell for a lot of money, but Biden’s name was clearly behind the expensive cost the dealer was expecting to get for their sale. He asked,“[C]an you find anyone other than a president’s son who showed up on the scene and started selling for the cost of a house and a half? Because $295,000 was the price of the average home sale last year, and he’s selling for up to $500,000.”

As for what the White House should’ve done? The former government ethics official didn’t hold back, blasting the secretive art sale arrangement as “profiting off the presidency.” He called on the White House to be transparent to the public about who the buyers are and any future meetings they have with White House officials:

So ideally, Hunter Biden wouldn’t be doing this. Because it sure looks like profiting off the presidency. But if they couldn’t talk him out of doing it, there is something within their control. They could promise us today if they happen to learn who any of the buyers are, they will notify us immediately and they will tell us again if any of those buyers get a meeting with the White House or any other political appointee. 

Avlon wondered if Biden could sell his artwork under a “pen name” instead, which led to this blunt admission from Shaub: “I have a feeling if he did it under a pen name, he wouldn’t get very much for it.” He is not the only one who feels that way.

The interview ended on that awkward note. 

Read the transcript below:

CNN New Day

6/23/21

BRIANNA KEILAR: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki there talking about an agreement reached with an art gallery and this comes as first son Hunter Biden is expected to meet with potential buyers raising ethical questions about possible influence peddling. Walter Shaub is with us now, he is a senior fellow at the Project on Government Oversight who led the Office of Government Ethics under former President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017. And you say, Walter, that the White House is outsourcing government ethics to an art dealer. Why? 

WALTER SHAUB: They put an art dealer in charge of keeping a secret. And really what he’s doing is keeping a secret from the public because eventually the–Hunter Biden or people in the White House will learn who it’s going to be. 

In fact, Hunter Biden, we now know, is going to be at two art showings where he will meet the universe of bidders on his art. So they left that detail out when they told us they had no way of knowing who was buying his art. 

JOHN AVLON: Obviously, adult children of presidents have jobs, they have lives, they may even have hobbies. But art, you say, is actually sort of different because of the nature of it being priced somewhat capriciously. And that it is– can be at a very high end used to actually launder money and other things. Explain how art is different and what the right way to do this might’ve been.

SHAUB: So there’s no intrinsic value of the art, it’s whatever anybody says they want to pay for it. The problem is they’re buying it from the president’s son at prices that you would never see for a first-time art sale. There is a local artist collective in Alexandria, Virginia just outside Washington, D.C., where if you go really well-established artists who have been doing this for years and have quite a following, are selling for 2 to $5,000. He’s not even at that level because this is his first sale. So it really doesn’t matter whether anyone likes his art or not. The question is can you find anyone other than a president’s son who showed up on the scene and started selling for the cost of a house and a half? Because $295,000 was the price of the average home sale last year, and he’s selling for up to $500,000. 

KEILAR: So, should we know, then, who the buyer is? Should the American public know and what kind of assurances does the White House need to give? 

SHAUB: So ideally, Hunter Biden wouldn’t be doing this. Because it sure looks like profiting off the presidency. But if they couldn’t talk him out of doing it, there is something within their control. They could promise us today if they happen to learn who any of the buyers are, they will notify us immediately and they will tell us again if any of those buyers get a meeting with the White House or any other political appointee. 

AVLON: Or I guess Hunter Biden could do this under a pen name and his real value would be established by the market not his name.

SHAUB: I have a feeling if he did it under a pen name, he wouldn’t get very much for it.

AVLON: Well, we’ll see.

KEILAR: That’s a very interesting point.

AVLON: Walter Shaub, good to see you.

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