Jeff Zients, the man whom Joe Biden is entrusting to run his administration’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, once hosted a select group of Chinese business and political elites at the Obama-era White House after prodding from Hunter Biden’s business associates.
On Monday, Biden’s team announced that Zients would serve as “coordinator of the COVID-19 Response and counselor to the president” when the new administration takes office in January. Zients, who serves as co-chair of Biden’s presidential transition task force, will lead the White House’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The role is likely to have extensive purview as Biden has signaled that tackling the virus will be an administration-consuming effort.
Zients, who managed the Obama administration’s rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange website, has been praised as a good fit for the post. He could be a controversial appointee, however, among Republicans, who are probing whether Hunter Biden’s professional work overlapped with his father’s political influence. Zients, in particular, is likely to face questions over a meeting he helped host at the Obama-era White House in November 2011 with the Chinese Entrepreneur Club (CEC).
The CEC, founded in 2006 and often referred to as the “richest club” in the People’s Republic of China, counts among its members some of the richest and most influential personalities in Chinese society. At the time, Zients was the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a position in which he was tasked with restructuring the Obama administration’s trade agencies.
The meeting did not draw much attention when it first took place. However, emails published earlier this year by Peter Schweizer, a senior contributor at Breitbart News and president of the Government Accountability Institute, indicated just how important a role Hunter Biden and his business associates, including Devon Archer, played in making the White House visit happen.
The emails showed that on November 5, 2011, a colleague of Archer’s reached out to suggest there was an opportunity to gain “outstanding new clients.” According to the email, copies of which were published exclusively by Breitbart News, the colleague told Archer that the CEC had been trying for some time to arrange meetings with high-ranking Obama administration officials when they visited Washington, DC, in mid-November.
“A tour of the White House and a meeting with a member of the chief of staff’s office and [then-Secretary of State] John Kerry would be great,” the colleague wrote.
Up to that point, the CEC had tried and failed to obtain access to the Obama administration.
“From the DC side as you will see below they [CEC] have written letters to several members of the administration and others and have so far not had a strong reaction,” the colleague wrote Archer.
Archer discussed the CEC’s request with two other associates, Gary Fears and Bevan Cooney. Fears, in particular, told Archer to follow up on the request since the CEC delegation could be “perfect” for a fertilizer mining venture the trio was then pursuing.
Although it is unclear exactly what transpired after the emails reached Archer, only nine days later, on November 14, 2011, the CEC had secured its meeting at the Obama White House. Administration records indicate that a delegation of 30 CEC members received a tour of the White House and met with then-Commerce Secretary John Bryson.
The delegation also, according to its members, met privately with Hunter Biden’s father, then-Vice President Joe Biden. At the time, the vice president was playing a leading role in the Obama administration’s policy towards Beijing. Just that past May, Biden had taken part in talks between the U.S. and China on how to improve “strategic and economic” relations.
Exactly how Archer and his associates arranged the meeting for the CEC is unknown. Visitor logs, though, show that Zients was the official host for the CEC delegation. It is unclear if any arrangements made by Hunter Biden or associates for the CEC ran through Zients or the OMB.
After the meeting, Zients would go on to be promoted to acting director of OMB after his superior, Jack Lew, ascended to the position of White House Chief of Staff. In March 2014, Zients was appointed to lead the National Economic Council, a position he held until Obama left office in 2017.