In December 2020, the Biden transition team named Jonathan Su to the White House Counsel team, which advises the President on legal and ethics issues within the Administration. A former partner at the BigLaw firm Latham & Watkin, Su already went through the revolving door in the Obama Administration. He currently serves as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President. However a look at his recently released Personal Financial Disclosure showed several indefensible sources of income underwriting his partner salary of $3,117,226 in 2020. His work for Latham & Watkins included representing a high-profile convicted sex offender, a Republican Senator who profitted off the COVID-19 pandemic while deceiving the public, and a pharmaceutical company that created an artificial shortage of life-saving medicine.
Here is a closer look at Su’s problematic clients:
- Serial child molester George Nader: One of Su’s most horrifying clients disclosed in his PFD is the serial child molester George Nader. In 2019, Su represented Nader against federal charges of child pornography and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. In 2020, Nader pled guilty to both possessing child pornography and bringing a 14-year-old boy to the United States for sex. When Su represented him in the 2019 charges for child pornography and trafficking, it was in the context of Nader’s long history of convictions and arrests for child pornography stretching back to 1991. Nader was an international power broker charged with conspiring to funnel more than $3 million in illegal campaign contributions to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and his work as an intermediary for the United Arab Emirates in setting up meetings between the Trump Administration and Russian officials was a central piece of the Mueller investigation. It’s important to note that BigLaw firms like Latham & Watkins have personal discretion in the clients they do and do not choose to take on, and charge their clients for thousands, if not millions of dollars. As we have argued elsewhere, a public defender, court appointed defender, or attorney intervening on behalf of a seemingly odious and indigent client to ensure their Constitutional right to counsel is materially different. Su likely had competition to take on such an affluent client, and Nader paid Su for significant billable hours.
- Republican Senator Richard Burr: In 2020, Su represented Republican Senator Richard Burr on charges of insider trading and benefiting off the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In one of the most heinous examples of coronavirus profiteering, Burr dumped $1.7 million in stocks on February 13th, 2020, immediately before the coronavirus market crash and without warning the public about the potential consequences of the pandemic (he did, however, warn donors and “well-connected constituents” behind closed doors). The FBI’s investigation, which turned up a similar insider trading incident from 2018, revealed the extent to which Burr, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, profited off his career as a “public servant.”
- Pharmaceutical company Mylan: Clients who profit off health crises is a theme in Su’s PFD. Su provided legal services to Mylan, an embattled and scandal-ridden pharmaceutical company that merged with Pfizer in 2020. In 2016, Mylan was named in a DOJ antitrust investigation into price collusion between generic pharmaceutical companies, and two of their top executives were investigated for a “sinister” price-fixing conspiracy. Mylan used their monopoly on epinephrine injectors to surge the price of their product, the EpiPen, by up to 400% of the original cost., This lead to an entirely predictable shortage of the life-saving devices. As we’ve seen recently in pushback to Biden’s potential FDA Commissioner pick from across the Democratic Party, there is momentum to keep pharmaceutical companies’ interests out of the executive branch.
- Live Nation: Su also received compensation for legal services from Live Nation, the entertainment company best known for selling tickets for live entertainment that has created a de facto ticket monopoly. In 2020, Live Nation and Ticketmaster were sued for violating antitrust laws and illegally inflating the price of tickets for consumers.
- Fontem US: Su represented Fontem US, a vaping company owned by the tobacco firm Imperial Brands. Fontem US faced criticism for their flavored vape products, which allegedly enticed youth tobacco usage. In 2020, the FDA released new guidelines prohibiting their flavors for vaping cartridge systems.
- The Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Su received compensation for legal services for the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice. Su’s firm, Latham & Watkins, facilitated foreign lobbying for Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice in 2018 and 2019, and Su was a registered foreign lobbyist in 2019.
- “Confidential Clients”: Su received income over $5,000 from 32 confidential clients for legal services, limiting the amount we know about his potential conflicts of interest. Based on the sources of income he did disclose, this lack of transparency is deeply alarming.
Jonathan Su’s financial disclosure shows that he placed a higher value on profit than ethics in his work. Despite how worrisome these clients are, Su has 32 undisclosed clients. Given the clients he is comfortable revealing, one wonders what clients demand secrecy.
Regardless, the public did not agree to confidentiality, and any such agreements made by Su are not binding on the public. Regardless of the secrecy a client demands, the public is entitled to these names. Su must either disclose them or resign.