Hunter Biden’s art gallery dealer told House investigators that the president’s son initially requested to know who bought his art, raising questions about White House statements about an ethics agreement surrounding the earnings, according to a transcript of the interview reviewed by CNN.
Georges Bergés testified that his initial 2020 contract with the president’s son included a rare provision to disclose the buyers of his art. But, Bergés said in practice, he never shared the names of Biden’s art buyers, and the president’s son never pushed him to know who the buyers were. Then, the president’s son initiated a second contract where the provision was officially taken out in September 2021, according to the testimony.
It does raise questions on the timeline of when the White House said ethical safeguards around Biden’s art were put in place and when the White House got involved. The White House repeatedly stressed that ethical safeguards were put in place throughout the summer of 2021, but Bergés’ testimony indicates that those safeguards were not initially in place and that the change to Hunter Biden’s contract was not made official until that September.
“After careful consideration, a system has been established that allows for Hunter Biden to work in his profession within reasonable safeguards,” then-press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on July 9, 2021.
The next month, Psaki told reporters, “We have spoken extensively to the arrangements, which are not White House arrangements; they’re arrangements between Hunter Biden’s representatives and ones that we, certainly, were made aware of.”
Bergés said he never had any contact with the White House in negotiating the ethics agreement and stressed that the president had no involvement in the selling or profits of his son’s artwork. However, Republicans have taken Bergés’ testimony to say that the White House ethics agreement was a “sham.”
“Absolutely not,” Bergés said when he was asked if he thought any of the art buyers expected to receive any political favor or benefit from their purchases. Bergés praised the president’s son as an artist, and framed any allegations that the purchases were part of an influence peddling scheme as “kind of absurd.”
House Republicans interviewed Bergés as part of their impeachment inquiry into the president, as they continue to look for evidence that the president has done something wrong and build momentum for their investigation. Bergés’ testimony does not provide evidence directly implicating the president.
Even though Bergés vowed he never shared the identity of Biden’s art buyers, he testified that the president’s son knew of at least two of them: his lawyer who had assumed a large portion of his debt and a woman who later received a White House appointment by President Joe Biden. While Republicans used Bergés’ testimony to say, “the majority of Hunter Biden’s art has been purchased by Democrat donors,” that distorts the testimony. Both of these individuals made large purchases, but they were not the only ones who bought Hunter Biden’s artwork, and there is no evidence that these purchases were used in an influence peddling scheme.
One purchase was from his lawyer, Kevin Morris, who bought 11 pieces worth $875,000 on January 19, 2023.
Republicans have raised concerns about Morris loaning Hunter Biden the roughly $2 million that he needed to pay his tax bill, according to court filings and past CNN reporting. Morris has also covered many of Hunter Biden’s legal bills and is responsible for crafting a more aggressive legal strategy for the president’s son, according to previous CNN reporting.
Bergés, who said he was paid for the sale to Morris, told committee investigators the president’s son was not.
“I think they had an arrangement, because I didn’t pay Hunter Biden his commission, the artist commission, because it was dealt – that’s how I remembered that, yes, he had to have known that he was the buyer because normally the gallery would then write a check for the artist commission but I didn’t,” Bergés testified.
Morris declined to comment for this story. He was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday morning for his closed-door interview with House committee investigators, and did not answer questions as he walked in.
The other buyer who Bergés said Hunter Biden knew about was Elizabeth Naftali, an American businesswoman, who eventually received a White House appointment in 2022.
Naftali bought $94,000 worth of art, which Bergés said the president’s son later found out about through press reports.
While Republicans have sought to implicate wrongdoing by Naftali’s purchases, Bergés defended selling Biden’s artwork to her, and said that it had nothing to do with her eventual White House appointment to the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
“So it wasn’t, even with Naftali, it took me a year of cajoling her and telling her how it was a great piece. So it wasn’t a very – it took a lot of effort,” Bergés said of the art deals.
Separately, Naftali’s lawyer told Congress last year that she has done “nothing wrong” and any Republican attempts to link her art purchases to her appointment to the commission were “baseless.” Jason A. Abel said that Naftali’s nomination to the commission was “solely initiated” by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and that Naftali, who is a patron of the arts, went through the “standard vetting process.”
“At no point did she discuss her purchase of Mr. Biden’s artwork with anyone at the White House. Ms. Naftali’s extensive work against anti-Semitism and advocacy on behalf of Jewish Americans is what led Speaker Pelosi to recommend her appointment to the Commission,” Abel wrote.
When asked for comment on the transcript, Hunter Biden’s representatives cited a June 20 statement from Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell, who said, “Mr. Biden is not involved in the sale transactions of his art.”
“He has become aware of some purchasers of his art after they were made through the gallery,” Lowell said at the time. “The gallery sets the pricing and handles all sales based upon the highest ethical standards of the industry and does not disclose the names of any purchasers to Mr. Biden.”
Art dealer has not renewed contract with Biden
In his interview, Bergés said he has decided for now not to renew his contract with the president’s son in part because he was receiving death threats.
“I never expected the whole security issue or the death threats and people assuming political affiliation, which was completely wrong. It’s just shocked some people,” Bergés testified.
Bergés confirmed he has donated to both parties, including donations to Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in 2020, but emphasized working with the president’s son “was never a political thing.”
He argued that taking on Hunter Biden as an artist “hasn’t been a lucrative business decision” for him, and in fact, his last name hurt his ability to make lucrative art sales.
“I think a lot of what is going on has kind of – it’s unfair for him. It – his name has actually – I think, had his name been somebody else, he would have been doing a lot better,” Bergés said, adding that “I have artists that I don’t think are as good that I’m selling for higher.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, who asked questions during the interview, countered that the president’s son made over $1.5 million in a two-and-a-half-year time period.
Explaining the evolution of his relationship to the president’s son, Bergés, who said he still talks to the president’s son regularly and considers him one of his best friends, compared his story to the movie “Rocky.”
‘We cheer for someone because he’s not supposed to win,” Bergés added. “To me, that’s America. And I like that narrative. And I saw that he was a great artist and it was reflected in his art, and it was inspirational. And that was my motivation with working with him.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.
For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com