April 11, 2021

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Biden White House’s Ties to Big Tech Are Detailed in New Disclosures – The Wall Street Journal

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WASHINGTON—Several members of President Biden’s White House staff have ties to companies with major stakes in the administration’s positions on cybersecurity, antitrust and other policy areas, new federal disclosures show.

The disclosures, which the White House made available on request through an online portal, detail staff members’ and their spouses’ assets, stock portfolios, income, nongovernmental positions and debts for 2020 through when they joined government service this year.

Some of the ties might pose an early test of how the Biden administration is interpreting its ethics pledge, which mandates that appointees commit to not participating in any matter “involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.” As of Saturday, the White House said no waivers to the administration’s ethics pledge have been issued for White House staff.

It isn’t unusual for senior government officials to have ties to prominent business, as every modern administration has drawn from the private sector to fill top posts. President Donald Trump’s initial batch of White House advisers and cabinet officials drew from the oil industry, Wall Street and his personal real-estate and licensing business, among other sectors.

The new Biden White House disclosures particularly highlight recent ties between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Microsoft.

Mr. Sullivan is overseeing an interagency effort to address a recent cyberattack on Microsoft’s Exchange email software, which the company said was carried out by a network of suspected Chinese hackers. Microsoft’s network was also accessed in the recently unearthed suspected Russian hack of at least nine federal agencies and scores of private businesses.

Before entering the administration, Mr. Sullivan, a former campaign aide to Hillary Clinton, served on an advisory council for Microsoft from 2017 through May of last year, according to his disclosure. In that role, he was paid $45,000 last year as part of the council’s work advising the company’s president on “key policy developments,” the disclosure says.

In response to questions about Mr. Sullivan’s disclosure, a White House official said that while Mr. Sullivan is dealing with the national-security consequences of the Microsoft Exchange hack, deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger is leading the National Security Council’s response.

Mr. Sullivan hasn’t had any contact with the company, isn’t participating in decisions directly affecting the company and is consulting with NSC lawyers to remain in compliance with ethics requirements, the official said.

“These White House officials are experienced government leaders whose past private sector experience is part of a broad and diverse skill set they bring to government service,” the White House said in a statement. “They have returned to government because of their deep commitment to public service, their desire to help bring our nation out of this time of crisis, and their strong belief that government can work for the American people.”

In response to questions about Mr. Sullivan’s role on the advisory council, Microsoft said in a statement that “like many multinational companies, a group of individuals from across the political spectrum offer ideas and advice on a variety of national policy issues.”

Through a trust, Mr. Sullivan holds between $50,000 and $100,000 of stock in both Microsoft and in Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., according to his disclosure, which uses ranges of valuations for assets and income. He also owns between $15,000 and $50,000 of Facebook stock.

Mr. Sullivan’s disclosure detailed his work for the consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners, showing he was paid about $138,000 last year in fees. Among his clients were Uber Technologies Inc., Mastercard Inc., Lego, the insurance company Aviva PLC, Standard Life Aberdeen, Standard Chartered and a subsidiary of Bank of America Corp.

Other senior Biden staff members listed past positions or stockholdings in tech firms and other businesses involved in the government’s Covid-19 response.

On Saturday, the White House official said Mr. Sullivan is divesting himself of all of his stockholdings, which will be reflected in a coming government certificate of divestiture. He will recuse himself from any matters involving his past Macro Advisory Partners’ clients and have no contact with those companies, the official said.

Other senior Biden staff members listed past positions or stockholdings in tech firms and other businesses involved in the government’s Covid-19 response.

Susan Rice, who leads the Domestic Policy Council, listed assets of at least $37.9 million.

Photo: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg News

Susan Rice, who leads the White House Domestic Policy Council, listed assets of at least $37.9 million.

The former Obama administration national security adviser and United Nations ambassador resigned in mid-December as a member of the board of directors at Netflix Inc. and indicated in her filing that she is in the process of liquidating stock options acquired after joining the streaming company in 2018. The sale of less than a third of those options in August netted her $305,275.

Her portfolio includes shares in the Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. She listed shares of between $1 million and $5 million in Johnson & Johnson, while reporting between $15,001 and $50,000 in Pfizer.

On Saturday, the White House official said Ms. Rice isn’t involved in the administration’s decisions related to Covid-19 vaccines.

Ms. Rice listed almost $638,000 in speaking fees earned during 2020, including more than $128,000 after Mr. Biden’s election.

The coronavirus czar, Jeff Zients, served on Facebook’s board of directors until the middle of last year.

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

The Biden administration’s coronavirus czar, Jeff Zients, who reported assets of at least $89 million, served on Facebook’s board of directors until the middle of last year. He also held stock in the company, for which his disclosure shows he has divested himself.

The White House official said Mr. Zients has recused himself from any Facebook-related matters and sold the stock as soon as he was able to do so. The official referred to public reporting that he left the board over disagreements over the directions of the company.

Louisa Terrell, the White House director of legislative affairs, who reported assets of at least $680,000, previously served as Facebook’s public-policy director and still held between $250,000 and $500,000 of company stock as of last year. In her latest disclosure, she says she will divest herself of those assets.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary and Obama administration veteran, was paid at least $5,000 as a communications consultant for the ride-hailing company Lyft Inc.

The White House official said the consulting occurred for about six months when the company didn’t have a communications director and involved writing a communications plan.

Write to Chad Day at Chad.Day@wsj.com

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