Biden’s “upside-down world” in Ukraine

Show Notes

Count Peter Schweizer among the “doubters” of the Biden administration’s choice of former Commerce Secretary and major Democratic donor Penny Pritzker to lead U.S. efforts to channel private sector reconstruction assistance to Ukraine.

Pritzker, the heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune and a real estate mogul herself, was corrupt and self-dealing during her commerce department tenure under President Barack Obama, which Schweizer documented in a 12-page chapter of his book, Secret Empires.

“You really wonder who’s going to benefit from all this,” Schweizer said of the aid money headed to Ukraine. “Yet, here comes Penny Pritzker. . .  She has no moral authority.”

According to Secret Empires, while Commerce Secretary during Obama’s second term, Pritzker approved leasing office space owned by her real estate company, Artemis Real Estate, to Commerce Department grantees. In 2013, Artemis bought the Carlyle Center, a brick and glass building in Alexandria, Va. One of the building’s tenants was the US Patent and Trademark Office, a Commerce Department agency. The same year, Artemis bought a building near Boston through a joint venture, and a US government tenant was paying $670,000 annually in rent.  Artemis-owned buildings in San Rafael, Cal., and Dallas were similarly blessed with federal government tenants.

“And she is supposed to help Ukraine become more transparent and more open, and less corrupt?” he asked.

Artemis Real Estate also had an uncanny knack for leasing space to companies who contracted with or were under the regulatory thumb of the Commerce Department. Avaya Telecom’s federal services division was a Commerce Department contractor, and in 2013 leased part of a 230,000 square-foot building in Morristown, NJ. Another Artemis-owned office building, in Huntington Beach, Cal., inked a 9-year lease in 2013 with Driessen Aircraft Interior Systems, Inc., which makes galley equipment for commercial and private airplanes, and whose parent company, Zodiac Aerospace, is regulated directly by the Commerce Department.

Pritzker was introduced to a younger Barack Obama by a mutual Chicago friend, Marty Nesbitt. She became Obama’s enthusiastic backer and raised millions for his campaigns. She was placed on various advisory committees during Obama’s first term when Democrats were afraid her extensive business history might taint her nomination to Commerce. But the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed her to the post in 2012 without a hitch.

The Pritzker family came to the US in the 1880s to escape anti-Semitic pogroms in Russian-held Ukraine, setting in Chicago. Throughout the 20th Century they grew their real estate empire, even making deals with the crime syndicate of Al Capone in the 1920s. Later, they sold the Commodore Hotel in New York City to a rising young real estate entrepreneur named Donald Trump.

Having the controversial Clinton Global Initiative re-appear this month to help steer Ukrainian relief funds from private and public sources in the US was “Red Flag #1,” Schweizer said. “This is another one.”

CBS’s “60 Minutes” program did a report this weekend on how the $70 billion sent by the US government so far to Ukraine is being spent. The Biden administration just announced it wants another $20 billion, and Republicans have so far balked, over corruption fears within the country and its government.

Eric Eggers notes that there are already problems with corruption in the aid money that has gone to Ukraine, and noted that the US government is not good at rooting out corruption even here at home. “We don’t do it well here. but we’re somehow going to do it in Ukraine?” he asked. “And with Penny Pritzker in charge?”

Schweizer concluded, “the American Social Security system may go broke, but Ukrainian pension funds will be saved.  What an upside-down world.”