Consultancy Linked to Biden Nominees Scrubs Middle East Ops From Site

Biden's NSA, VA picks worked for Macro Advisory Partners

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December 15, 2020

A consulting firm linked to incoming Biden officials removed references to its foreign dealings in the closing weeks of the election.

Both Jake Sullivan, President-elect Joe Biden's incoming national security adviser, and Denis McDonough, Biden's pick to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, have served as partners at Macro Advisory Partners, a consulting firm that says it helps clients manage geopolitical risk.

Until early November, the firm advertised its work helping a financial services company expand into the Middle East, according to archived versions of the website. The firm said it helped its clients manage the "geopolitical and economic volatility" in Middle Eastern markets by drawing on the extensive policy expertise of Macro Advisory Partners employees.

"The intersection of geopolitics, policy and politics is defining the long-term prospects for financial services in the Middle East," the website said in now-deleted comments. "MAP's partner-led team includes professionals with decades of experience analysing Middle Eastern markets, politics and security."

Tom Anderson, a director at the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group, said the move raises questions about the work the Biden duo conducted and whether they stand to profit from the new administration's policy in the region.

"When politicians or officials are caught trying to hide something—there is a reason for their actions. Usually, they see a bigger reward than the risks associated with scrubbing," Anderson said. "Hiding motivations for seeking positions should raise red flags for oversight professionals, and the media to expose potential conflicts of interest."

The American Prospect reported in July that Sullivan's clients included ridesharing giant Uber. He also "used [the] knowledge he acquired from negotiating the Iran deal in the Obama administration to help companies profit from the opening of the Iranian economy," the magazine reported.

As a chief negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—at the time, Sullivan was then-Vice President Joe Biden's national security adviser—any of his business dealings with companies looking for guidance in the Middle East would raise questions about whether he has a vested interest in ensuring the Biden administration reenters the deal. McDonough, who served as then-President Barack Obama's chief of staff, was also privy to discussions about the Iran nuclear deal and other Middle Eastern foreign policy issues, raising similar conflict-of-interest concerns. The current employment status of the two Biden picks is unclear. McDonough is still listed as a partner at Macro Advisory Partners, but Sullivan disappeared from the firm's website after July.

Neither Macro Advisory Partners nor the Biden transition team responded to requests for comment.

Robert Spalding, a former staffer for the Trump White House's National Security Council, said former officials cross a line when they work for U.S. adversaries after retiring from office. "I don’t necessarily think they shouldn’t work in this space, but working for the Russians, CCP, Iranians, or any other thuggish regime ought to be a no-no," he told the Washington Free Beacon. 

Macro Advisory Partners is the second Biden-linked firm to expunge references to its overseas work as top executives were tapped to senior positions in the incoming Democratic administration.

WestExec Advisors, a geopolitical consultancy cofounded by Obama administration alums, removed details from its website about its work helping American universities court Chinese donations. Biden has since announced that he intends to nominate WestExec cofounder Antony Blinken as secretary of state and onetime partner Avril Haines as intelligence chief. Other Biden nominees have pruned their online presence in recent weeks as well. Democratic operatives have edited the Wikipedia page of Biden's COVID czar, while Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden deleted hundreds of tweets.

Macro Advisory Partners, which counts several former Obama-administration officials as executives, still touts its work crafting a "China market strategy" for a consumer goods company on its website. The company says it advised a client looking to navigate the authoritarian country's "internal policy dynamics."

The boutique consultancy's business model involves retaining high-profile members of the American and British political circles and using their extensive political connections and foreign policy chops to help clients "navigate the intersection of global markets, geopolitics, and policy." The firm's roster is a veritable who's who of the British and American political elite: William Burns, former deputy secretary of state under the Obama administration; David Miliband, brother to former British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband; and Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to former British prime minister Tony Blair.

With its deep roster of notable politicos, Macro Advisory Partners is just one example of the revolving door between government and the private sector that can undermine U.S. national interest, according to Anders Corr, a geopolitical consultant who previously worked for U.S. military intelligence.

"The revolving door between government and industry is increasingly dangerous when that industry includes U.S. consultants and lobbyists who work in the interests of foreign adversary nations one day, and then return to their government jobs the next," Corr said. "The incentives to create a long-term quid pro quo relationship will influence them when they are in office."