One of President Biden’s in-laws is walking a fine ethical line with his health tech venture capital firm that’s leveraged his family connections amid the coronavirus pandemic as the new White House deals with a growing list of ethical questions.
Howard Krein’s StartUp Health was reportedly sought by executives from tech firm Yosi Health in December for help pitching its software that aims to streamline COVID-19 vaccine efforts to government officials.
Krein, a head and shoulder surgeon and StartUp Health’s chief medical adviser, has been married to first daughter Ashley Biden since 2012, a year after he co-founded the firm with his brother, Steven Krein, and tech entrepreneur Unity Stoakes. Through StartUp Health, he and his business partners have invested almost $2 billion in more than 350 ventures.
Yosi Health’s outreach was reported by ABC News, but Biden’s support of StartUp Health is a matter of public record. As vice president, he invited StartUp Health executives to the Oval Office to meet his boss, former President Barack Obama. And as a private citizen, he spoke at the company’s conferences.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed ethical concerns Wednesday during a briefing, saying that the administration had created “an absolute wall” between Biden and financial interests linked to his family.
And StartUp Health spokeswoman Jennifer Hankin told ABC News that Krein “does not make investment decisions at StartUp Health nor does he advise or assist companies on obtaining government contracts.”
But add Krein to the list of the Biden family’s ethical dilemmas:
Former President Donald Trump and Republicans ripped the foreign business dealings of Joe Biden’s youngest son, lobbyist-investor Hunter, during the 2020 campaign. They accused the younger Biden of profiting from his last name, specifically in China and Ukraine.
Trump’s desire to attack Joe Biden regarding Hunter’s $50,000-a-month role on Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings’s board, despite having no prior experience in the energy sector, was central to Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Hunter Biden’s ties to China are now suspected to be key to a federal investigation run by the FBI and the IRS into his taxes. That investigation dates back to 2018 and involves allegations of money laundering, including with a 2.8-carat diamond given to him by a Chinese tycoon.
Joe Biden’s middle brother Frank generated headlines last month when he was featured in an Inauguration Day ad for his Florida law firm, the Berman Law Group, touting his links to the new administration.
The ad was quickly followed by reports that Joe Biden had warned his brother, who offers consultancy advice through the legal practice, during the campaign to “watch yourself.”
“Don’t get sucked into something that would, first of all, hurt you,” the president said.
Frank Biden has denied making money off his older brother.
Psaki declined “to get into private conversations between the president and his family” from the briefing room podium.
“It’s the White House’s policy that the president’s name should not be used in connection with any commercial activities to suggest or in any way they could reasonably be understood to imply his endorsement or support,” she said.
Joe Biden’s youngest brother James, another lobbyist-entrepreneur, has contributed to similarly problematic optics, including through his hedge fund Paradigm Global Advisors. James Biden and Hunter Biden took over the group in 2006.
“Don’t worry about investors,” James Biden reportedly told executives on their first day. “We’ve got people all around the world who want to invest in Joe Biden.”
James Biden has disputed the report, and Paradigm has since been wound down.
James Biden also raised questions as part of a recent criminal investigation into a bankrupted Pennsylvania hospital network called Americore Health. He was targeted by Trump during the campaign as well over a 2011 construction deal he struck in Iraq when his brother was vice president.
The ABC News report this month is not the first time Krein has stirred controversy for his in-laws.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden and Krein drew scrutiny after Krein started informally advising the candidate and his staff on the pandemic while continuing to work for StartUp Health.
Krein was also criticized by Trump’s campaign for accepting a Paycheck Protection Program loan of between $150,000 and $350,000 to bolster 18 jobs. Biden had railed against Trump allies who had received loans as evidence of “cronyism.”