The decade's most triggering comedy
The wealthy Democrat donor who paid Hunter Biden for a piece of his hyper-expensive artwork was appointed to a federal commission known for years for corruption, secrecy, and as a vehicle to advance the financial interests of its members.
Elizabeth Hirsch Naftali, who has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrat politicians over the years, was appointed by President Joe Biden to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. The commission post is one Hunter knows well — it’s the same position President Barack Obama handed to Hunter’s business partner Eric Schwerin in 2015.
The reason Hunter’s associates gravitate to the notoriously corrupt commission may have to do with the lack of attention paid to it—it’s the sort of government agency where a director could pocket a six-figure government salary while building lucrative foreign relationships. Schwerin suggested to Hunter after Obama was elected that the commission could be beneficial for leverage with foreign governments, according to emails on Hunter’s abandoned laptop.
At the time Schwerin was put on the commission, its executive director, Jeffrey Farrow, was earning $143,000 a year for working what amounted to a one-day-a-week job. In 2013, the agency’s only full-time employee, Katarina Ryan, filed a complaint with government investigators saying Farrow didn’t even work one day a week. Instead, Ryan said, Farrow spent 90% of his time running a for-profit international lobbying firm out of the government office. His lobbying practice brought in up to $750,000 a year, according to lobbying disclosures.
“This is a classic example of using a public office for private gain,” she wrote in a whistleblower complaint, “but what makes it particularly reckless is to have the Federal government subsidize expenses for a lobbyist.”
A lawyer who specializes in lobbying cases described the situation in terms that bring to mind the controversy surrounding Hunter’s foreign lobbying work. “Someone burrowed so deeply in the government and yet at the same time engaging in lobbying and representing a foreign government — it is pretty brazen,” the lawyer told The New York Times.
“Mr. Farrow, as a result of his different jobs, was often working with the State Department and members of Congress in his official capacity — as the agency urged foreign governments to preserve cemeteries and other historic sites — while he was also making appeals to these same officials on behalf of his lobbying clients,” The Times reported.
The commission was uncooperative with the multiple government entities investigating it. The commission permitted the General Services Administration inspector general to investigate only with a limited scope, and on the condition that the investigators were prohibited from referring their findings for criminal prosecution without its consent.
The final inspector general report was hidden from the public until Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) requested it as part of a Senate Homeland Security investigation into the commission. Even then, the commission’s chairwoman, Leslie Weiss, called the GSA “seeking advice on how to withhold the report from the committee.” Johnson received the report only by going directly to the GSA, he said in a 2015 letter to the commission.
The inspector general found that people associated with the obscure government agency used it as a personal piggy bank and routinely falsified paperwork. “Invoices were designed to consume the maximum amount of taxpayer dollars that could be allocated,” Johnson wrote.
It found evidence that Warren Miller, a former chairman of the commission, was also using the office and extensive benefits for personal use and to run a law firm.
To sidestep federal rules, it designated Farrow and other employees as contractors, even though they were acting as employees and signing contracts on behalf of the agency, which is illegal, the inspector general found. The commission also hired other contractors from a company run by Farrow’s cousin.
Ryan was put on leave after her whistleblower complaint, while the commission continued to employ Farrow. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which investigates whistleblower retaliation, informed President Obama in November 2015 that Weiss, then the commission’s chair, had thwarted its investigation by turning its details over to the suspects.
“OSC’s referral letter to Chair Weiss requested that the letter not be shared with Messrs. Miller and Farrow and noted that both should recuse themselves from the matter because they were subjects of the allegations. Nevertheless, the information provided to OSC confirms that Mr. Farrow was actively involved in the commission’s resolution of this matter,” OSC wrote. “Mr. Farrow’s involvement in the resolution of these issues is troubling not only because he was the key subject, but because his involvement created an opportunity for self-dealing.”
Though the exact timing of the art buy is not known, Naftali was appointed to the federal post in July 2022, eight months after Hunter’s first art opening, Business Insider reported. Hunter’s artwork sells for as much as $500,000, and while the Biden administration had claimed that only the art gallery would know who purchased it — the Business Insider report says Hunter learned the identity of at least two of the buyers.
Naftali has contributed large sums of money to Biden and his allies in recent years. Just last year, she hosted a fundraiser that was headlined by Vice President Kamala Harris. She has visited the Biden White House more than a dozen times, most recently in March of this year, according to official visitor logs.