Grassley questions Gupta about conflict of interest

Vanita Gupta, Joe Biden’s nominee for Associate Attorney General, is wealthy beyond the dreams of virtually everyone on the planet. She has reported owning between $42 million and $187 million in assets and properties. Most of her wealth consists of shares in companies linked to her father.

Ordinarily, this would present no problem. We should all be fine with people possessing great wealth, whether by virtue of their own hard work and acumen or, as in Gupta’s case, that of their parents.

However, Sen. Grassley is concerned about Gupta’s large stake in Avantor (reportedly between $11 million and $55 million), a chemical company owned by her father. What’s the problem?

According to Bloomberg News, Avantor stopped all Mexican and Latin American sales of acetic anhydride, the only essential heroin chemical, after a Bloomberg Businessweek investigation found that the chemical was easily diverted for narcotics production. Following Bloomberg’s report, Mexico launched an investigation into the sale and distribution of the chemical, but has not publicly named Avantor as a target. The U.S. Department of Justice declined to say whether it is investigating those sales.

Grassley has submitted questions for the record to Gupta about her stake in the company, given her past statements in favor of decriminalizing possession of all drugs. Because the policy change Gupta advocated would increase demand for heroin and methamphetamine, thus fueling the need for their chemical precursors, Grassley asked Gupta:

Do you agree, then, that there is a potential undisclosed conflict of interest in your prior public advocacy for the decriminalization of heroin and methamphetamine possession because of the likely profit such a policy would allow a precursor-manufacturer like Avantor — whose stock you hold — to capture?

Grassley also asked Gupta whether she would agree, if confirmed, “not to take any role in the enforcement of federal criminal drug laws as doing so may implicate or give the appearance of implicating a financial conflict of interest?” Gupta apparently has affirmed in an ethics agreement that she won’t participate personally and substantially in any matter that to her knowledge has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of Avantor. But Grassley’s question seeks a specific pledge that she won’t participate in enforcing drug laws because such enforcement would have a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of that company.

Having an Associate Attorney General who cannot participate in enforcing drug laws due to a conflict of interest seems highly undesirable, should it come to that.

During her hearing, Gupta testified that she no longer supports decriminalizing all narcotics. I didn’t hear her say when she changed her stance and whether there is any previous public record of such a change. However, I didn’t watch the entire hearing.

The Washington Post’s fact-checker awarded Gupta an “upside-down Pinocchio” for her “tango of previously unacknowledged flip-flops” on the issues of police defunding, drug decriminalization, and ending qualified immunity — the legal principle that shields government officials, including police officers accused of using excessive force in some cases, from having to face lawsuits for their conduct on the job.

When the Washington Post questions the honesty of a high-profile Biden nominee, even Democrats should wonder about the wisdom of confirming that nominee. That’s especially true when the nomination is for a top law enforcement job.

I’ll try to find out and report on how Gupta answers Sen. Grassley’s questions stemming from her stake in Avantor.

Sen. Graham has asked Gupta about her recommendation against the death penalty for Dylann Roof, the racist mass murderer. I’ll try to follow up on this matter, as well.

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