January 27, 2021

Frank Biden, President Biden's brother, was featured in a newspaper ad for the Florida-based law firm where he works that ran on Inauguration Day in the Florida-based Daily Business Review, CNBC reports. In the ad, which promotes an environmental lawsuit against a group of Florida sugarcane companies, a picture of Frank Biden, a non-attorney senior adviser for the firm, is accompanied by quotes touting his relationship with his brother.

"My brother is a model for how to go about doing this work," one quote reads, while another states "the two Biden brothers have long held a commitment to pushing environmental issues to the forefront; the president-elect has vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement and wants to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, for example."

Richard Painter, who served as former President George W. Bush's chief White House ethics lawyer, said Frank Biden had a right to run the ad, but suggested it wasn't a good look for him or the new administration, which he said should encourage Frank Biden not to promote the family name and make it clear senior White House officials shouldn't engage with him. "The Biden White House has to have a very strict protocol on the using of the Biden name," Painter told CNBC. "Brothers, law firm associates, and anyone else who is using the Biden name should not be contacting the president or anyone else working with the president."

Frank Biden told CNBC in an email he has never "used my brother to obtain clients for my firm." Read more at CNBC. Tim O'Donnell

April 14, 2020

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is under a lot of scrutiny these days.

That's mostly because he sold stock holdings following a congressional briefing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the COVID-19 coronavirus back in February before the market plummeted (Burr has denied he was acting upon any privileged information), but now some ethics experts are concerned about the sale of his Washington, D.C., home in 2017, ProPublica reports.

The senator sold the townhouse to a team led by donor John Green, who lobbied on behalf of clients before Burr's Senate committees that same year, as well as in the past. Aside from the general worries about lawmakers entering into business transactions with donors or lobbyists, ethics experts are concerned about the sale primarily because some believe the house was sold for a price above market value. Green's team bought the home for $900,000, while tax assessors valued it at a little under $800,000 and the real estate website Redfin pegged it at a little north of that mark. If the sale was above-market, it would theoretically violate the congressional ban, and some ethics experts were convinced it did just that. "This has every appearance of being a violation of the gift ban," Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen, told ProPublica.

However, real estate agents said gauging market value can be a challenge, and that it may have been sold at a fair price. A spokesman for Green provided ProPublica with an analysis showing similar homes in the area were sold in the general price range around the same time. It was also sold off-market, which can sometimes lead to higher sales because buyers don't want to compete with anyone else. Read more at ProPublica. Tim O'Donnell

November 15, 2019

The House Ethics Committee disclosed Thursday that two Florida congressmen, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D) and Rep. Ross Spano (R), are under investigation. Hastings, who has been in the House for 26 years, is being investigated by the Ethics Committee for his long-term relationship with a member of his staff, Patricia Williams. Former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) resigned last month after denying she had an intimate relationship with a member of her staff while admitting she had such a relationship with a campaign staffer.

Williams has been on Hastings' staff since 2000, and they bought a house together in 2017, the Palm Beach Post reports. He downplayed any impropriety this fall, telling the Post, "However it looks, it's been looking like that for 25 years."

With Spano, the House Ethics Committee announced it is deferring its investigation at the request of the Justice Department, which, the committee revealed, has opened a criminal investigation into possible campaign finance violations. Spano claimed last year that he loaned his campaign $175,000 from personal funds when in fact he had received $180,000 in loans from personal friends, Politico reports. Spano's lawyer informed the Federal Election Commission of the erroneous campaign finance report soon after Spano won the race.

"Today, the House Committee on Ethics deferred their review of my self-reported filings with the FEC," Spano said in a statement. "We plan to cooperate fully with the Justice Department on this matter." Peter Weber

October 14, 2019

Deutsche Bank has been under a lot of scrutiny recently, mostly due to its role as the primary lender to President Trump. But it turns out the bank also has a questionable history in China, The New York Times, along with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, reports.

Beginning nearly two decades ago, Deutsche Bank, while seeking to make inroads in China, conducted a campaign that involved enriching Beijing's elite in exchange for contracts. This included some lavish gifts for the country's former president and premier and millions of dollars paid to Chinese consultants. It also meant that the bank reportedly hired more than 100 relatives of the country's political elite, even if they were unqualified.

For example, a man named Ma Weiji was considered "one of the worst candidates" for the job he applied for with the bank, but he was brought on anyway in 2007, likely because his parents were senior executives at state-owned companies, per a senior bank executive. Ma reportedly then secured meetings for Deutsche Bank with his parents' companies.

In another instance, China's former propaganda minister's son was up for a gig. One Deutsche Bank employee wrote in an email that the son "cannot meet our standard," but — you guessed it — he was offered the job, anyway. The same goes for another candidate who was deemed unqualified, but happened to be the daughter of Li Zhanshu, who is now a top member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

September 27, 2017

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has twice used a private jet, paid for with taxpayer funds, to travel to destinations where he owns property, Politico reports.

The HHS inspector general is investigating Price's use of chartered aircraft. Price's aides are adamant that he never violated federal travel regulations stipulating that officials are allowed to charter planes only if "no scheduled commercial airline service is reasonably available ... to fulfill your agency's travel requirement." Politico found that since May, Price has taken at least 26 flights on corporate jets, and in several cases, there were commercial flights available to his destinations.

Politico focused on two sparsely scheduled trips, which an HHS official said were both official government business and paid for by the department. A June 6 round-trip chartered flight to Nashville, half an hour each way, cost $17,760, according to the federal contract. Politico found that there were two commercial flights that had nearly the same exact timelines; with government discounts, the tickets would have cost between $102 and $333 round trip. In Nashville, where Price owns a condo, he toured a medicine dispensary for an hour, then had a long lunch with his son, before attending a health summit organized by a friend and major Republican donor. Price gave a 20-minute speech, then left, Politico reports.

Price arrived at St. Simons Island 40 hours before he appeared at a medical conference, Politico reports, and there was a commercial flight he could have taken, via Atlanta, to get to St. Simons Island from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he had given a speech to a vaccine manufacturer. "To use a charter flight on something that combines personal and government business, I think it's highly unprofessional and really inappropriate," Richard Painter, the top ethics official for former President George W. Bush, told Politico. Read more about Price's travels and the cost to taxpayers at Politico. Catherine Garcia

February 14, 2017

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) requested more information on Tuesday from the White House about the handling of sensitive information at Mar-a-Lago. The request follows a CNN report on Monday that suggested President Trump discussed how to respond to a North Korean ballistic missile launch with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the middle of his private club's dining area.

"As Mar-a-Lago's wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe's evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN," the network reported.

In his press briefing Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed such reports. "Just to be clear, the president was briefed in a SCIF ahead of dinner," Spicer said, referring to a "sensitive compartmented information facility," where confidential reports can be discussed. "He went with his national security team. They briefed him on the situation in North Korea. Subsequently he had a dinner, which was attended exclusively by U.S. and Japanese delegation members."

Chaffetz's letter refers also to the resort's public dining area, citing accounts and photos from other diners that "seem to indicate" communications about the North Korea missile launch "occurred in the presence of other guests."

While Chaffetz acknowledges Spicer's defense, he wrote: "Nevertheless, discussions with foreign leaders regarding international missile tests, and documents used to support those discussions, are presumptively sensitive. While the president is always on duty, and cannot dictate the timing of when he needs to receive sensitive information about urgent matters, we hope the White House will cooperate in providing the committee with additional information."

Read the full request below. Jeva Lange

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