Companies linked to White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients’ family members scored a major African mining deal thanks to a Biden administration initiative aimed toward promoting “clean energy,” The Intercept reported Wednesday.
The Biden administration brokered a March 2023 deal between TechMet, a company that develops supply chains for green technologies, and Lifezone Metals to source nickel from Tanzania. Zients’ brother-in-law Brian Menell is the CEO of TechMet, and a trust fund for Zients’ adult children owned more than 400,000 shares of Lifezone before the company’s July public listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), according to The Intercept.
The Biden administration “helped facilitate a strategic partnership” between the two companies, with the U.S. aiming to start receiving battery grade nickel produced by the partnership starting in 2026, according to a White House fact sheet from March. “These efforts are aimed at building and expanding resilient, transparent supply chains for clean energy technology,” the March fact sheet states.
Lifezone’s share price spiked by approximately 60% on its first day of trading on the NYSE on July 6, according to CNBC data, four months after the White House announced that it had brokered the company’s partnership with TechMet. It is unclear how much money in total Zients’ family members may have reaped from this transaction.
Nickel is an essential material needed to build products like lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs) and other types of batteries that store energy derived from wind and solar farms. EVs, wind power and solar power are each key pillars of the Biden administration’s climate agenda, which aims to have the U.S. economy reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
White House covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients:
“Where the country has more work to do is particular with 18-26 year olds. The reality is many younger Americans have felt like Covid-19 is not something that impacts them and they have been less eager to get the shot.” pic.twitter.com/5z1oweX1MU
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) June 22, 2021
The federal government’s support for TechMet goes back to 2020, when the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) invested $25 million into the company, according to a TechMet press release from the time. In 2022, the DFC committed to investing another $30 into the firm’s green energy projects, according to a DFC press release.
Zients recused himself from matters involving TechMet, The Intercept reported.
Before taking over as White House chief of staff in February, Zients served as Biden’s “Covid czar” from January 2021 until April 2022, after working as the vice chairman for the Biden transition team in the wake of the 2020 election, according to The Associated Press.
“Zients informed vetting and ethics lawyers about TechMet as part of the standard onboarding process for his hiring,” Saloni Sharma, a White House spokesperson, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Even though he was not required to do so under relevant ethics regulations, out of an abundance of caution, he elected to recuse himself from all particular matters involving TechMet to avoid even an appearance of a conflict of interest.”
“Jeff Zients has no involvement with the trust,” Sharma told the DCNF. “He does not have a position with, receive income from or have a financial interest in the Trust.”
While the White House asserts that Zients’ recusal from matters involving TechMet indicates a superb commitment to ethics, watchdogs told the DCNF that questions surrounding the Zients’ ethics in this case may not be as clearly defined as the administration suggests.
“This sort of conflict is inevitable when the government assumes the role of venture capitalist,” Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, told the DCNF. “And, while it’s good that Zients recused himself, this is another example of the Biden administration bringing in highly conflicted individuals to important positions,” he continued, adding that “this either forces them to recuse from important matters or pressures career ethics officials to award waivers so these officials can do their jobs.”
Zients is the latest high-ranking official surrounding Biden to face ethics questions. Numerous government watchdog groups called for Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s resignation in August, citing what they perceive to be a “litany of abuses of public trust” and conflicts of interest during her tenure, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was also the subject of an August ethics complaint.
“With major government decisions involving large amounts of taxpayer dollars, an appearance of impropriety is as concerning as participating in a direct conflict,” Pete McGinnis, communications director for the Functional Government Initiative, told the DCNF. “When a senior White House official and his family members can be linked on opposite sides of the transactions to one of these high-profile – and lucrative – allocations of US taxpayer funds, alarm bells should go off.”
An August Gallup poll indicated that more than 50% of Americans have a negative perception of the Biden administration’s ethics. Former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in January 2021 that the Biden administration sought to be the most “ethically vigorous administration in history.”
Lifezone Metals declined to comment, and TechMet did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
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