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Hunter Biden’s private art exhibition in Los Angeles renews conflict of interest concerns

Over the weekend, images posted on social media and shared in the press emerged showing Hunter Biden displaying his work in Los Angeles at Milk Studios – a Hollywood venue that typically hosts video and photo shoots.

One of the attendees at the LA event was the city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti – President Joe Biden’s candidate to be the next US Ambassador to India and former national co-chair of his 2020 presidential campaign. Harrison Wollman, the press secretary in Garcetti’s office, confirmed the mayor attended the show but said he did not purchase any artwork.

Garcetti wasn’t the only political participant at the Hunter Biden art premiere. Michael Tubbs – a former mayor of Stockton, Calif., Who is now special advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom – posed with the president’s son for a photo at the show. CNN has reached out to Tubbs for comment on the show. The Instagram posts show Hunter Biden’s daughters Naomi and Maisy in attendance. Other participants have reportedly included a former professional boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, artist Shepard Fairey and musician Moby.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Government Watch on Government Watch, said in a statement that Hunter Biden’s presence at the LA event “undermined early White House claims that neither he nor the White House, would not know who bought his art. ”

“The silver lining of this dark cloud is now that the rest of us are also familiar with the universe of those who might be interested in purchasing the paintings – which will make it easier to follow up if those people are trying to curry favor. from the White House through the President’s Son, “argued Brian.

Prior promises to avoid potential conflicts of interest

Early in his administration, President Biden vowed to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest after years of accusations against former President Donald Trump that his company and his family benefited from his office. , in particular by having his daughter and son-in-law detained. best jobs in the White House.

“We’re going to run this like the Obama-Biden administration,” Biden told People magazine early in his term. “No one in our family and extended family will be involved in any government enterprise or foreign policy.”

The president has long been the subject of close scrutiny for his family’s actions and their appearance of conflicts of interest, including Hunter Biden’s business dealings – an issue that has become a lightning rod for the 2020 presidential campaign. and initiated impeachment proceedings against Trump. News of Hunter Biden’s burgeoning artistic career and the awards for his works have alarmed ethics experts who were concerned about whether individuals would buy art to gain influence with the president. The pieces were expected to cost between $ 75,000 and $ 500,000, which is widely considered steep for an artistic start.

In July, the first son told the podcast “Nota Bene: This Week in the Art World” that art prices are “completely subjective” and that he has never set the prices.

“Look, man, I never set my prices – what my art was going to cost, what it would cost or how much it would cost. I would be amazed, you know, if my art sold at, uh, you know, for $ 10, ”he said.

Asked about Garcetti’s presence and whether it posed a conflict of interest, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday: “We talked about the arrangement managed by the gallery owner and representatives of Hunter Biden that the White House provided suggestions for. “

“I refer you to the gallery owner for questions about the event, as well as to Mr. Garcetti’s representatives in terms of attendance,” she continued.

Ethical process implemented

The White House had previously helped strike an ethical deal with the art gallery selling Biden’s paintings, the Georges Bergés Gallery, which had booked Milk Studios for the exhibition.

Two sources familiar with the sale agreement told CNN that the buyer of the artwork will remain anonymous and that neither Hunter Biden nor the public will know who bid or bought the artwork. If there is any unusual behavior – such as the offer being too high or the collector not appearing interested in the work – the gallery should decline the offer, the sources said.

A source close to the deal also previously said that while Hunter Biden is attending the shows, he will not have any conversations related to potential sales. The source said he needs to focus on the creative process and what his art means to him, not sale or price.

However, there is no clear enforcement mechanism for the standards agreed upon by the gallery and potential buyers. And Hunter Biden needed to be able to see who the potential buyers are at those shows, even if he doesn’t tell them about pricing or sales.

The Georges Bergés Gallery had previously indicated that Hunter Biden would attend a preview of his work in Los Angeles this fall, but details on attendees, an exhibition date and location have not been made public.

When asked for more information about the LA event, including the pieces that had been sold and the curator of the exhibition, Georges Bergés, owner of the gallery, told CNN: “We didn’t have no additional information “.

Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s former chief ethics lawyer, told CNN the White House should have taken a different approach with art sales – either by preventing Biden from selling art while his father is in office, or by being more transparent about who bought the art and demanding their challenge.

“Plan B would be to find out who these buyers are and get them as far away from the executive branch as possible. And you wouldn’t have a potential candidate ambassador showing off the art gallery,” said Painter, who is now a law professor. companies. at the University of Minnesota law school, told CNN.

“I think this secrecy business was never going to work,” he continued, referring to the purchase contract.

A gallery spokesperson told CNN over the summer that an invitation-only event in New York was to follow the event in LA. But when contacted for comment on Thursday, Bergés did not disclose further details about the New York show.

The potential art sales also caught the attention of the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, Kentucky Representative James Comer.

Last month, Comer sent letters to Bergés requesting documents and communications regarding the prices set for art, including the gallery’s communications with the White House.

Comer requested that those documents be provided by September 29, but his office told CNN on Thursday that the gallery had yet to respond to any of its requests.

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