State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller Advised Crypto Giant With Chinese Ties Amid Federal Probe

New Biden official is worth up to $60 million, disclosures show

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller / YouTube
May 2, 2023

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller advised the American subsidiary of a Chinese cryptocurrency exchange under investigation for fraud, money laundering, and enabling Islamic terrorist groups to use its platform.

Before joining the Biden administration last month, the former MSNBC talking head and Obama administration official was a partner at the crisis communications firm Vianovo. The firm's roster of clients includes BAM Trading Services, a subsidiary of crypto giant Binance, according to financial disclosures obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission in March sued Binance and its founder, the Chinese-Canadian billionaire Changpeng Zhao, in federal court for allegedly coaching its wealthy clients on how to evade regulations that bar Americans from trading cryptocurrency derivatives. The commission alleged that Binance executives discussed turning a blind eye to transactions conducted by Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group.

Miller's work for Binance's public relations firm could raise eyebrows as he reenters the public sector. But consulting work was highly lucrative for Miller, who was the director of the Obama Justice Department's Office of Public Affairs and communications director for embattled Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.). Miller has between $30 million and $60 million in assets, including a $25 million to $50 million investment in a Vanguard investment fund, his disclosures show. Over the past calendar year, Miller received $85,000 in income from Vianovo and $786,435 from its affiliate, VNPG. NBCUniversal paid Miller $98,027 for his appearances on MSNBC, where Miller appeared frequently to trumpet the Trump-Russia collusion hoax.

Miller served a stint last year as special adviser to the National Security Council, where he led the government's "communications and outreach as part of our support for Ukraine's sovereignty and defense," according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The council has long had concerns that terrorists use cryptocurrency exchanges such as Binance. Last year, the agency asked Binance to block Russians from using its platform over the invasion of Ukraine. Binance resisted calls to "unilaterally" freeze all Russian accounts.

It is unclear what work Miller provided Binance, but Vianovo touts its specialty in providing crisis communications for companies facing lawsuits, investigations, or negative publicity. "Our services include risk assessment and planning, crisis communications, litigation support, ally development, congressional testimony preparation, and brand rehabilitation," the company says. On its website, Vianovo boasts a roster of clients including IBM, Walmart, and the NBA. But financial disclosures indicate that the firm has clients it does not publicly tout, including Binance, Google, and the business empire of Democratic megadonor Pierre Omidyar.

The firm says it no longer counts Binance as a client. "Vianovo provided Binance US with communications counsel," Vianovo managing director Rob Norcross told the Free Beacon. "That work ended earlier this year."

Federal regulators asserted that Binance and Zhao have "common ownership and control" of BAM Trading Services, which also operates as "Binance.US." Zhao once referred to the Chinese parent company as a "pirate ship" in the crypto industry, with Binance.US serving as a "navy boat," according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission complaint.

Binance and Zhao have faced additional scrutiny for hiding extensive links to China. According to the Financial Times, Zhao repeatedly instructed Binance employees to lie about the company's presence in China because of the heightened scrutiny the relationship would bring the company.

Binance, the world's largest crypto market, has hired a stable of attorneys and lobbyists to handle the federal investigations. Zhao and the company recently hired the white-shoe law firm Latham & Watkins and lobbyists from Hogan Lovells, ICE Miller Strategies, and Fierce Government Relations to lobby Congress and federal agencies, according to disclosures. Catherine Coley, the former CEO of Binance.US, recently hired a former Commodities Future Trade Commission official to represent her in anticipation that she will be in the crosshairs of federal investigators.

Binance did not respond to requests for comment. A State Department spokesperson responded to say that "personnel across the administration follow the highest ethical standards, including recusals when appropriate."

Update May 2, 10:50 a.m.: This piece has been updated to included comment from the State Department.