President Joe Biden said at the start of his administration that family conflicts of interest would not be tolerated in his White House, but not two weeks into his presidency, his brother’s actions as a part of his employment at a law firm in Florida are raising questions about how he’ll implement that pledge.
Francis “Frank” Biden, the President’s brother, was hired as a non-attorney, senior adviser for Berman Law Group, a Boca Raton law firm in 2018. The firm frequently touts Frank Biden’s ties to the President, featuring Frank and his family connections prominently on their website, in ads and on social media.
As Frank Biden was with his brother in Washington for the inauguration last month, the firm placed a two-page “advertorial” in a local Florida newspaper emphasizing the shared values between “the two Biden brothers.” With Frank Biden’s image placed prominently in the center of the ad, it also mentioned the firm’s lawsuit against sugar cane growers “filed against the backdrop of incoming President Joseph Biden Jr.’s commitment to environmental and social justice(.)”
Last week, the White House said that it is its policy to not let businesses imply they have Biden’s support or endorsement. But they declined to comment on the record specifically about the advertisement.
On Wednesday, a White House official told CNN that there is currently a process in place that involves the White House Counsel’s Office and family representatives to address issues as they may arise any questions of potential conflicts of interest.
In 2020, before the November election, the firm also launched two lawsuits against China and other Chinese government entities related to the coronavirus outbreak. Press releases for the two lawsuits mention that “Francis Biden, Joe Biden’s brother, is a senior advisor of the firm.”
The firm says that Frank Biden was not involved in the cases.
“We have not spoken with Federal Government officials about any of our cases. There have been no discussions between the firm (including Frank Biden), with President Biden, the campaign, transition, or administration about the law firm or any cases, including China related matters, nor will there be,” Matthew Moore, an attorney at the Berman Law Group, said in a statement to CNN.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday the firm shared a statement on Instagram in 2018 that read: “Joe Biden’s brother joins The Berman Law Group.” A March 2019 Instagram post of an ad in the Boca Raton Observer shared by the firm’s profile boasted that Biden would provide clients “an unrivaled personal network of contacts.” The Post also reported that the law firm deleted a social media post published after the January inauguration that highlighted the President’s halt to deportations while advertising free consultations for services.
But the firm has made ample public note of their politically connected employee.
The President and the White House maintain that the Biden family will keep its distance from West Wing affairs.
“President Biden has set and maintained the highest ethical standards for himself, his administration, and those around him, and he has pledged an ‘absolute wall’ with any family member’s private business interests. Any implication to the contrary is flatly untrue and unsupported by the facts,” Michael Gwin, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement.
“We’re going to run this like the Obama-Biden Administration,” Biden said. “No one in our family and extended family is going to be involved in any government undertaking or foreign policy.”
He added, “And nobody has an office in this place. They always have access to Pop and Nana but nobody (will have an office).”
The President also indicated that he’s tried to avoid the perception of conflicts of interest during his years in public office.
“I remember years ago an accountant said, ‘You know, you can charge (the Senate) part of the gas you use in the vehicle at your home.’ And I said, ‘No,’ ” Biden said. “Here’s how I look at it: The foul line is 15 feet away from the basket. Never get me closer than 17 feet, because it really is a matter of the public trust.”
But questions about the actions of family members extend beyond Frank Biden.
The President faced scrutiny throughout his presidential campaign over his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings, which included being on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. Hunter Biden asserted in a 2019 interview with ABC News that he “did nothing wrong at all” but he admitted that holding the position while his father was vice president showed “poor judgment.”
Then-President Donald Trump, his attorney Rudy Giuliani and his Republican allies used questions about Biden’s foreign business ties in an attempt to characterize the Biden family as corrupt.
Politico reported last month that there were internal discussions about whether the President’s sister, Val, would get an office at the White House. But the White House says no family members will be given an office in the West Wing.