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Biden's picks face Ethics test over some of his top foreign policy choices

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  • Biden's picks face Ethics test over some of his top foreign policy choices

    Source: Biden Aides’ Ties to Consulting and Investment Firms Pose Ethics Test


    Some of the president-elect’s choices for top posts have done work for undisclosed corporate clients and aided a fund that invests in government contractors.

    One firm helps companies navigate global risks and the political and procedural ins and outs of Washington. The other is an investment fund with a particular interest in military contractors.

    But the consulting firm, WestExec Advisors, and the investment fund, Pine Island Capital Partners, call themselves strategic partners and have featured an overlapping roster of politically connected officials — including some of the most prominent names on President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s team and others under consideration for high-ranking posts.

    Now the Biden team’s links to these entities are presenting the incoming administration with its first test of transparency and ethics.

    The two firms are examples of how former officials leverage their expertise, connections and access on behalf of corporations and other interests, without in some cases disclosing details about their work, including the names of the clients or what they are paid.

    And when those officials cycle back into government positions, as Democrats affiliated with WestExec and Pine Island are now, they bring with them questions about whether they might favor or give special access to the companies they had worked with in the private sector. Those questions do not go away, ethics experts say, just because the officials cut their ties to their firms and clients, as the Biden transition team says its nominees will do.

    WestExec’s founders include Antony J. Blinken, Mr. Biden’s choice to be his secretary of state, and MichŤle A. Flournoy, one of the leading candidates to be his defense secretary. Among others to come out of WestExec are Avril Haines, Mr. Biden’s pick to be director of national intelligence; Christina Killingsworth, who is helping the president-elect organize his White House budget office; Ely Ratner, who is helping organize the Biden transition at the Pentagon; and Jennifer Psaki, an adviser on Mr. Biden’s transition team.

    WestExec did not respond when asked for a list of its clients. But according to people familiar with the arrangement, they include Shield AI, a San Diego-based company that makes surveillance drones and signed a contract worth as much as $7.2 million with the Air Force this year to deliver artificial intelligence tools to help drones operate in combat missions.

    At the same time, Mr. Blinken and Ms. Flournoy have served as advisers to Pine Island Capital, which this month raised $218 million for a new fund to finance investments in military and aerospace companies, among other targets.

    The team recruited by Pine Island Capital Partners — which is led by John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch at the time of its collapse in 2008 during the recession and sale to Bank of America — was chosen based on its members’ “access, network and expertise” to help the company “take advantage of the current and future opportunities present in the aerospace, defense and government services industries,” including artificial intelligence, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing in September describing the new fund, Pine Island Acquisition Corporation.

    Pine Island Capital has been on something of a buying spree this year, purchasing the weapons system parts manufacturer Precinmac and a company until recently known as Meggitt Training Systems and now known as InVeris, which sells computer-simulated weapons training systems to the Pentagon and law enforcement agencies.

    Another person listed as a member of the Pine Island team is Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired Army general who is also under consideration for defense secretary, according to a person familiar with the selection process.

    Also working with Pine Island are Richard A. Gephardt, the former House majority leader, and Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, both Democrats, as well as Don Nickles, a Republican, who was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and is now the chief executive of a lobbying firm with dozens of major corporate clients.

    Ms. Flournoy, who served as under secretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration and as an assistant secretary of defense during the Clinton administration, has other business ties that could overlap with her role if Mr. Biden chose her to run the Pentagon.

    She is a member of the board at Booz Allen Hamilton, a global firm that has billions of dollars in federal contracts including a deal signed in 2018 to provide cybersecurity services to six federal agencies. That company paid her about $440,000 in the last two years, much of it stock awards.

    Republicans have already signaled that they intend to bore in on WestExec in confirmation hearings for Mr. Blinken, and other nominees with links to it.

    And Mr. Biden’s team has faced pressure from the left and government watchdogs to outline steps to minimize the sort of corporate influence and conflicts of interest that marked President Trump’s tenure from the start.

    These groups worry not only that Mr. Biden’s aides could shape government policies in ways that could benefit companies that paid their firms, but also that the firms could become magnets for access seekers in the Biden administration.

    At a minimum, these critics say, Mr. Biden must demand that his team fully disclose all financial relationships and clients, divest any ownership stakes and make sure that his aides recuse themselves from any decisions that could benefit their previous business interests.

    “We want to make sure that they are not beholden to anyone else and that any decisions they make would be beyond reproach,” said Mandy Smithberger, a director at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that investigates spending and conflicts of interests at federal agencies.

    A spokesman for Mr. Biden said in a statement that, if confirmed, Mr. Blinken and any other appointees who were partners in WestExec and Pine Island would leave the firms if they had not already done so, sell their ownership stakes and make “proper” client disclosures.

    “Joe Biden has pledged the most ethically rigorous administration in American history, and every cabinet member will abide by strict ethics rules and abide by all disclosure requirements,” the spokesman, Andrew Bates, said. Mr. Blinken already took a leave from Pine Island and WestExec as of August, when he joined the Biden campaign full time.

    But Mr. Biden’s transition office stopped short of saying that all clients would be disclosed — and ethics rules allow incoming federal officials to withhold the identities of clients if the arrangements are subject to confidentiality agreements.


    Source

    © Copyright Original Source



    [*Article continues at link above*]

    The article points out that Biden’s nominees have refused to release a list of their firm’s clients, which will undoubtedly be the focus to following up suspicions of any corruption.


    Cornyn's remarks are likely in response to WestExec's explanation of their refusal:

    As a general matter, many of our clients require us to sign nondisclosure agreements, which are a standard business practice to protect confidential information. We are legally and ethically bound by those agreements.


    The modern Devil's Dictionary (inspired by Ambrose Bierce's 1911 book which provided humorous and satirical definitions for common words and phrases) defines "Legally and Ethically Bound" thusly:

    Required by a supreme law, doubly enforced (by a moral code among people of honor and commercial law) to place one’s loyalty to corporate masters ahead of public service




    So while they may well be within their rights to refuse to disclose any conflicts of interest, taking such a position should mean that they remove themselves from consideration.

    I'm always still in trouble again

    "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
    "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

  • #2
    Sounds like Republicans will make the leftist regime's life difficult in every single step. And why not?

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Maranatha View Post
      Sounds like Republicans will make the leftist regime's life difficult in every single step. And why not?
      Given the source it appears that even some liberals are troubled by this as well.

      I'm always still in trouble again

      "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
      "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Maranatha View Post
        Sounds like Republicans will make the leftist regime's life difficult in every single step. And why not?
        I kind of expected that the Republicans would come up with any reason to make it more difficult to get Biden's appointments confirmed.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Stoic View Post

          I kind of expected that the Republicans would come up with any reason to make it more difficult to get Biden's appointments confirmed.
          Looks like a good reason.

          I'm always still in trouble again

          "You're by far the worst poster on TWeb" and "TWeb's biggest liar" --starlight (the guy who says Stalin was a right-winger)
          "Of course, human life begins at fertilization thatís not the argument." --Tassman

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Maranatha
            Sounds like Republicans will make the leftist regime's life difficult in every single step. And why not?
            Trump was pursuing a rather libertarian platform as president that I supported. He was hampered by wild-eye Democrats trying to stymie him every step of the way.

            Now, along comes Biden with his globalist socialist/near-socialist agenda and he wants everyone to be friends.

            I say "hamper him every step of the way."

            Comment

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