Buying art or influence?

It appears that Hunter Biden’s art dealer believes that his art should be left entirely to the eye of the beholder — and not Congress. Georges Bergès reportedly refused last week to provide the House Oversight Committee with the identities of the buyers of Biden’s high-priced art work. While counsel William Pittard insists that the list of purchasers must remain secret, it is hard to see the viable legal basis to refuse the demand of the House Oversight Committee, if made subject to a congressional subpoena.

The Biden sales have long been a subject of intense debate over whether it is another form of influence peddling. Even President Barack Obama’s ethics head has raised objections.

Former Obama-era ethics official Walter Shaub called the art sale a “terrible idea” and noted that “it just is implausible that this art from an unknown artist would be selling at this price if it didn’t have the Biden name attached to it.”

As a new artist, Biden is fetching prices that exceed the prices of some Picassos. The quality of the work will be left to others to debate, but the Oversight Committee has a legitimate interest in looking into whether the art is being used to funnel money to the family of President Joe Biden.

In January, House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) requested that Bergès testify before Congress. Comer has long alleged that Chinese buyers are behind the sales, though there is no public proof to support that allegation. He has stated that “arrangement with Hunter Biden raises serious ethical concerns and calls into question whether the Biden family is again selling access and influence.”

Pittard wrote that “[i]n light of these considerations, providing the documents and information requested in your letter seemingly would defeat the efforts of Mr. Biden and the White House to avoid the ‘serious ethical concerns’ that you raise.” He added that “Mr. Berges hopes that you and Mr. Biden can resolve that tension.”

The question is what happens if they cannot “resolve that tension.” The Oversight Committee is investigating a host of avenues through which foreign interests were allegedly able to funnel millions into the Biden family coffers. It is hard to see how a court would find that these business records could not be subpoenaed by a congressional committee if they decide to move forward.

Berges could refuse to testify without a subpoena, but he must appear if so served. He could then invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to refuse to testify.

What is interesting is that this is only the latest lawyer to defy Congress on a Hunter Biden inquiry. We previously discussed how Hunter Biden’s personal counsel Abbe Lowell refused a demand for evidence sought by the House.

These moves appear to be channeling the same strategy of Steve Bannon who was ultimately charged with contempt and convicted. At the time, I said that Bannon was asking for a contempt charge and Biden appears to be replicating this same ill-considered strategy.

These may be just the opening salvos to seek to negotiate with Congress, but they can backfire as they did with Bannon. The categorical refusals could expedite matters in pushing these conflicts before a court where Congress would have the advantage.

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