Antony Blinken has had a long history with Joe Biden before the president-elect tapped him to be his secretary of state nominee—as a Biden Senate aide, an advisor to the then-vice president and deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration.
But it could be a non-federal role — one also closely tied to Biden — that will raise a question in his Senate confirmation hearings regarding how America’s next chief diplomat will handle China.
Blinken served as the managing director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, also known as the Penn Biden Center, established in 2017. He left that position in 2019 to join the Biden campaign.
In May, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a government watchdog group, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education seeking to force the university and the Penn Biden Center to disclose the names of anonymous Chinese donors who gave $22 million since 2017, including one $14.5 million gift in May 2018.
“This center was an incubation for Biden’s foreign policy team and it’s a natural place for his choice of secretary of state,” Tom Anderson, director of the public integrity project for the National Legal and Policy Center, told Fox News. “Every person in this center will likely have some role in a Biden administration.”
Anderson said Blinken should disclose the names of all Chinese donors if the University of Pennsylvania will not ahead of his Senate confirmation.
While Anderson said there is "nothing illegal" about these donations, "Chinese contributors knew Joe Biden might run for president, and if Biden won, they would have connections to the future administration officials.”
Added Anderson, “Corruption isn’t always about money. Sometimes it’s about access.”
In an email, Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates referred Fox News to the response from the university last May denying that it accepted undisclosed donations.
In a written statement to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the university’s vice president of communications Stephen MacCarthy said the complaint was “completely untrue.”
“We have never solicited any gifts for the Penn Biden Center,” MacCarthy told the student newspaper in May. “Since its inception in 2017, there have been three unsolicited gifts, from two donors, which combined [to a total of] $1,100. Neither of the donors [was] from China.”
The Penn Biden Center did not immediately respond to Fox News for a comment on this story.
Section 117 of the Higher Education Act requires universities and colleges to report to the federal government any contracts or gifts from a foreign source valued at $250,000 or more.
As for the university’s claim of no solicitation of funding to the Penn Biden Center, Anderson said that’s not the question.
“Probably the biggest solicitation for foreign money in the history of the University of Pennsylvania was when they slapped Biden's name on their think tank,” Anderson said. “Every operator, spy, foreign agent in the world immediately set their sights and their wallets on the university the day they used Biden's name. So this is simply spin for the masses. But anyone with any experience knows how this works and what's going on. It's why they'll never be transparent and open up their books.”
The NLPC complaint to the Department of Education shows that beginning October 2013 through June 2019, Chinese donors contributed about $67 million to the university.
What’s not entirely clear based on university records and the NLPC complaint is how much of the Chinese money that poured into the university went to the Penn Biden Center. It’s only clear that the amount of China donations increased substantially after the Penn Biden Center was established.
The gifts were lower before 2017 when the Penn Biden Center was established, and contributions from Chinese sources to the university accelerated When the Penn Biden Center opened a location in Washington, D.C. in February 2018.
The complaint notes that in 2017, out of a total of $7.7 million in donations from China, $500,000 came from anonymous donors. In 2018 the total donated was $27.1 million with anonymous donors giving $15.8 million of that. And, in 2019, Chinese donors contributed $26.9 million to the Penn Biden Center, of which $6 million were anonymous.
By contrast, in 2013, the complaint shows the university received $4.3 million from Chinese donors, according to the NLPC complaint to the Department of Education. In 2014, the number fell slightly to $3.8 million, was back up to $4.9 million in 2015, and jumped to $6.8 million in 2016.
The complaint shows just three anonymous gifts to the university from China in 2013, and two in 2016. However, after the Penn Biden Center opened, from 2017 through mid-2019, there were 23 anonymous donations from China.
Starting in 2014 through 2016, Blinken served as the deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. From 2009 to 2013 he was the national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden. When Biden was the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 through 2008, Blinken served as the committee’s staff director. He was also a member of the Clinton administration’s National Security Council from 1994 through 2001.
The high-profile questions surrounding the president-elect’s son Hunter Biden should still be explored, as the NLPC filed a complaint with the Justice Department inquiring about the Foreign Agent Registration Act. But, Anderson believes this Penn Biden Center poses a larger problem.
“Whatever Hunter Biden had a lot to do with his own personal problems,” Anderson said. “Blinken’s actions will affect millions.”