WASHINGTON - Hunter Biden's paintings have drawn the eye of House Republicans, but not for the art.
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee wants to know who bought the art and how much they paid, after list prices initially ranged up to $500,000. The chairman called the figures "exorbitant" for a "novice artist" and questioned whether it amounted to influence peddling over federal policy.
But the White House created a policy for the dealer to set prices without President Joe Biden or his son knowing the buyers. Georges Berges, the New York gallery owner who exhibited the art and arranged sales, defended Hunter Biden and predicted he would be "one of the most consequential artists in this century."
Republicans are investigating Hunter Biden's art sales as part of wide-ranging inquiries into his business dealings and bank records. Rep. James Comer, the Oversight chairman, questioned whether Hunter Biden was peddling influence to foreign adversaries by using high-value art to evade U.S. sanctions, with prices on his work initially listed at up to $500,000 and now ranging from $55,000 to $225,000 apiece.
The committee asked for documents showing communications with the White House about the art, how prices were set for the art, who attended Hunter Biden's art shows and who bought the paintings.
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Committee wants to question Hunter Biden's art dealer
"The Committee on Oversight and Accountability is investigating President Joe Biden and his family's foreign and domestic influence peddling schemes," Comer, R-Ky., wrote to Berges, requesting a transcribed interview by Feb. 15. "Despite being a novice artist, Hunter Biden received exorbitant amounts of money selling his artwork, the buyers' identities remain unknown, and you appear to be the sole record keeper of these lucrative transactions."
Berges told USA TODAY he couldn't comment on the committee's request. But he said he strived to maintain the integrity of artists and the privacy of art collectors.
"I know that there's a lot of politics involved at the moment which is a shame because his work is not only good it's important," Berges said. "Hunter Biden will become one of the most consequential artists in this century because the world needs his art now more than ever."
Berges said he began working with Hunter Biden before his father was nominated to become president. Berges praised Hunter Biden, who has struggled with drug addiction, for his art reflecting perseverance and rising up after a fall.
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White House policy distances president from son's art career
The White House announced in July 2021 - after questions grew about the art sales - that Joe and Hunter Biden wouldn't know who was buying the son's art because all sales would be handled through the gallery.
"We believe this is a reasonable system that has been established that allows for Hunter Biden to work in his profession within appropriate safeguards." press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time.
House Republicans disagree.
"It is concerning that President Biden's son is the recipient of anonymous, high-dollar transactions - potentially from foreign buyers - with no accountability or oversight (other than you)," Comer wrote to Berges.
The arrangements raised ethical red flags for government watchdogs. Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration, said the prices "sure looks like profiting off the presidency." Even if Joe Biden is trustworthy, Shaub said a future president could be influenced by a similar deal,
"This would be perfect for funneling bribes to that president," Shaub told CNN after the White House announced how sales would be conducted.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hunter Biden painting's can cost $500K. GOP probe wants to know why.