Obama-era officials return to White House worth millions

White House financial disclosures show several officials gained massive wealth.

March 21, 2021, 5:00 AM

As several Obama-era officials return to the White House under President Joe Biden, their reunion comes with fuller pockets and deeper ties to corporate interests, new financial disclosure reports show.

According to ABC News' analysis of the most recent disclosure reports, many of Biden's top White House officials, including Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, and coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients, have substantially multiplied their wealth over the past few years.

Rice, who is among the wealthiest members of the Biden White House team, dramatically increased her wealth since her previous White House job during the Obama administration, reporting between $36 million and $149 million in various assets in her new disclosure filing released Saturday morning.

That's nearly three to four times the amount she reported back in 2009, when she joined the Obama administration as the ambassador to the United Nations. Back then she reported total wealth between $13.6 million and $40.4 million, and the figure didn't increase dramatically when she served as President Barack Obama's national security advisor during his second term.

In her most recent filing, Rice reported holding shares worth between $250,000 and $5 million in major corporations including Johnson & Johnson, Apple and Microsoft. She also had a significant amount of stock options in Netflix, where she served as a board member, and reported earning more than $300,000 from exercising Netflix stock options in the past year. In addition, she reported shares in several oil and gas industry companies, including $1 million to $5 million of holdings in the Canadian multinational natural gas distribution company Enbridge Inc.

Susan Rice is seen during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, on Oct. 8, 2019. Rice discussed her book "Tough Love."
Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rice, who served as the president of her author and speaking business SERice LLC, earned roughly $620,000 from various corporate and academic speaking engagements in the past year, and $250,000 from book royalties, with her total income from the past year amounting to between $2 million and $6.7 million.

ABC News has not yet obtained Rice's ethics agreement, so it's not yet clear if she has or will divest from her assets in private companies or recuse herself from matters related to those companies -- except for her stock options in Netflix, which she said in her disclosure report that she'll be divesting. The White House did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

"These White House officials are experienced government leaders whose past private sector experience is part of a broad and diverse skill set they bring to government service," a White House spokesperson told ABC News in a statement. "They have returned to government because of their deep commitment to public service, their desire to help bring our nation out of this time of crisis, and their strong belief that government can work for the American people."

Klain, a longtime adviser to Biden, has also tripled his wealth since 2009, a comparison of his past and new disclosures shows. When he joined the Obama administration in 2009 as Biden's chief of staff, Klain reported owning between $1.4 million and $3.5 million in assets, and he now enters the Biden administration with between $4.4 million and $12.2 million in various assets.

Ron Klain, former White House Ebola response coordinator, speaks during a House Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2020.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

Much of Klain's wealth comes from various assets related to his employment. In 2020 he received nearly $2 million in salary from the venture capital firm Revolution LLC, where he was executive vice president and general counsel, compared to $1 million he reported receiving in salary in his filing from early 2009.

Zients is the single wealthiest Biden administration official that had disclosed assets as of Saturday evening, surpassing Vanita Gupta, Biden's nominees for associate attorney general, in his total assets. The White House has not yet released all of the disclosures requested by ABC News.

Zients reported owning between $89.3 million and $442.8 million in assets, including various investment funds, real estate properties and cash shares. He has divested his shares in his private investment firm, Cranemere Group, as well as $1 million worth of shares in Facebook, where he has served as a board member.

Jeff Zients, White House COVID Coordinator, listens as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. speaks to reporters during a news conference, Friday, March 19, 2021, in New York.
Mary Altaffer/AP

He reported making between $10.4 million and $28 million in income in the past year, including his seven-figure salary from his investment firm, as well as other several seven-figure assets he has divested from.

His total wealth has more than doubled since he first joined the Obama White House as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget in 2009, when he reported assets between $45.2 million and $205.7 million.

In her disclosure report, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki reported receiving a communications consulting fee from Zients in excess of $5,000 -- though the report has no further details on the transaction. Her assets have also grown significantly since her first White House job during the Obama administration. In 2009, Psaki had reported between $32,000 and $130,000 in assets and $125,000 in income, but in 2021 she reported her wealth had increased at least tenfold, to up to $1.5 million in assets with an annual income of roughly $647,742.

Much of her income from the past year came from Evergreen Consulting LLC, which she founded, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank. She also worked as a CNN contributor and an adviser to WestExec, a consulting firm founded in 2017 by current Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at which several Obama-era officials worked. In addition to the $5,000 Zients paid her, she was paid the same consulting fee by Lyft, among a handful of other companies.

Deese's wealth has also multiplied dramatically since 2009, when he took his first White House job as Obama's special assistant for economic policy. In 2015, just a few months into his role as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Deese reported owning between $81,000 and $215,000 in assets -- but now, as a member of the Biden administration, he's reported between $2 million and $7.2 million in assets. Prior to joining the Biden administration, Deese made $2.3 million in salary from the investment firm BlackRock as the Global Head of Sustainable Investing, compared to the $175,000 in salary he received during his last year as Obama's deputy OMB director.

High-ranking government officials typically divest their financial interests in specific private companies that they may regulate, as required by ethics rules, or recuse themselves from matters that could affect their personal financial interests. Some of the Biden White House officials have indicated in their disclosure reports that they will divest from their corporate interests, but the full extent of their plans to avoid conflict of interest are not yet known because ABC News has not yet obtained their ethics agreements.

Jen O'Malley Dillon, the White House deputy chief of staff, was paid consulting fees by General Electric, Lyft, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Gates Ventures, among others, as clients of Precision Strategies, a marketing agency in which she was a founding partner.

She reported between $2.2 million to $4.7 million in assets on her disclosure form and more than $800,000 in income in the past year, which includes $426,067 deferred compensation and severance from Precision Strategies, on top of $50,000 in salary from the firm. She also made more than $110,000 as Beto O'Rourke's campaign manager before becoming Biden's campaign manager at a salary of over $190,000.

Jake Sullivan, Biden's current national security adviser, is another multimillionaire, reporting assets between $7.5 million and $27.5 million held with his spouse, Margaret Goodlander, a former law clerk to now-Attorney General Judge Merrick Garland. Much of his wealth comes from a long list of residential and commercial real estate properties scattered throughout Florida and New Hampshire, and he also reported holding five- to six-figure dollars' worth of shares in private companies including Abbott Labs, American Express, Facebook, FedEx, Google, Merck, Visa and Verizon.

Sullivan's salary from the consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners in the past year was $138,000, and his corporate consulting clients included Uber, LEGO, MasterCard and Standard Chartered Bank. He also held academic positions at Yale and Dartmouth.

In first lady Jill Biden's office, chief of staff Julissa Reynoso was a partner at the law firm of Winston & Strawn, where she made more than $1.5 million last year with a $150,000 bonus. She reported between $4.1 million and $14.8 million in assets, and made up to $1.9 million in total income in the past year, including income from rental properties in New York and Miami as well as commercial properties in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Henderson, North Carolina, among others. She also listed a vacant beachfront property in the Dominican Republic on her disclosure form.

The disclosures were provided by the White House to ABC News on Saturday.

ABC News' Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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