President Joe Biden secretly hired the public relations titan who provided "damage control" advice to disgraced Hollywood rapist Harvey Weinstein, raising concern among ethics experts, the Washington Post reported on Monday.
Anita Dunn played a leading role in Biden's presidential campaign, and previously served in the White House as a senior communications adviser before returning to SKDK, her powerhouse political strategy firm, in August 2021. According to the Post, she returned to the White House earlier this month for a secret "one-week assignment at the personal request of Biden himself," as the president prepared to deliver his first State of the Union address and struggled to respond coherently to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Ethics experts are concerned about Dunn's role, especially given the extent of SKDK's influence within the Biden administration and the Democratic Party. In addition to Dunn, at least eight former SKDK employees are currently working in the Biden administration. At least eight current employees previously served in government before joining or rejoining the firm, which represents a variety of Fortune 500 companies, foreign governments, and Democratic candidates.
"This is a person who is appointed in and out of alternating roles, between being a public official with significant influence over administration policy and a private adviser, creating the appearance of being an influence peddler," said Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics.
Because Dunn was classified as a temporary "special government employee," she was exempt from most White House ethics requirements, including a rule that prohibits former staffers from taking part in lobbying efforts for one year. Because her prorated salary was slightly less than $132,552 annually, Dunn did not have to file a public financial disclosure that would have required her to reveal information about her SKDK clients and how much they were paying her.
Not to worry, though. A "person close to Dunn" insisted that neither she nor her firm "lobby or represent any clients on matters before the federal government." White House spokesman Chris Meagher said Dunn had received "rigorous counseling on her ethics obligations," and argued (unpersuasively) that her salary level was not deliberately calculated to avoid public disclosure requirements.
With Dunn's help, Biden based his 2020 campaign on the premise that he would restore decency and honor to Washington, D.C., and would not stand for the self-dealing and lobbyist influence that, in his view, pervaded the Trump administration. He also promised to "shut down" the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to her work in the Biden administration, Dunn was an early adviser to then-senator Barack Obama (D., Ill.) in 2006 as he prepared to run for president, and served several months as White House communications director in 2009. Her husband, Bob Bauer, served as White House counsel from 2010 to 2011. After leaving the Obama administration and rejoining SKDK, Dunn helped orchestrate a "comprehensive public affairs operation" to "raise awareness about the positive role hedge funds play in the American economy."
BuzzFeed reported in October 2016 that Dunn was one of the many public relations professionals sought by Harvey Weinstein for "damage control advice" amid a series of damning reports on his long history of sexual predation in Hollywood. According to a statement released by her firm, Dunn had been "asked to speak with [Weinstein] by a friend," and was not paid for her advice.
Weinstein is one of the most prominent Democratic Party patrons to be exposed as a sexual deviant in recent years. The disgraced film mogul was convicted of rape in February 2020 and sentenced to 23 years in prison, unlike Democratic donor Jeffrey Epstein, who "killed himself" in August 2019 before he could stand trial on sex trafficking charges.
In addition to advising the Hollywood rapist, Dunn has also expressed an affinity for the political philosophy of Mao Zedong, the founder of Chinese communism whose authoritarian regime was responsible for the deaths of at least 65 million people.