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Biden sec. of state pick tied to fund involved in US national security contracts

Then-Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken (U.S. State Department photo/Released
December 10, 2020

Antony Blinken, presumptive President-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of state nominee, is the co-founder of a firm that helped launch the venture capital fund Ridgeline Partners which has a portfolio of national security-connected companies.

In 2017, Biden’s pick for secretary of State co-founded WestExec Advisors with a number of former government officials, including former undersecretary of Defense for policy under former-President Obama Michele Flournoy, CNBC reportedWestExec helped create the venture capital fund Ridgeline Partners, which “provides strategic insight on U.S. & allied national security capability needs and emerging opportunities to help grow” the fund’s portfolio, the WestExec website stated.

NBC reported that data and tech start-ups which have received government contracts, including Department of Defense deals, are part of Ridgeline’s portfolio. According to Ridgeline’s website, the fund “invests in commercially viable technology companies that are critical to national security.”

At least three of the thirteen companies in Ridgeline’s portfolio have gotten substantial government contracts. The New York-based start-up Opentrons, a company that builds robots for biologists, secured nearly $90,000 in government contracts since late last year. The Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Interior have each purchased Opentrons’ services.

Also in the fund’s portfolio is a company funded in part by a nonprofit venture firm initially created to assist the Central Intelligence Agency.

Progressives have voiced concerns over Biden’s appointees in recent weeks, noting potential conflicts of interest with their business dealings. David Segal, executive director of the progressive group Demand Progress, is among those requesting transparency from Biden appointees.  

“We need to understand exactly who is connected to this firm and the companies in its portfolio – many of which rely on government contracts or investments – how this will relate to decisions which they are likely to have to make, and whether potential conflicts can even be cured,” Segal told CNBC in an email.

Spokesman for Biden’s transition team Andrew Bates told CNBC that Blinken will divest his interest in the fund if he is confirmed as secretary of State, noting that the appointee has not been involved in Ridgeline’s operations.

“Joe Biden has pledged the most ethically rigorous administration in American history, and every Cabinet member will abide by all disclosure requirements and strict ethics rules – including recusals when appropriate,” Bates said.

During the confirmation process, Blinken must publicly file a financial disclosure report, providing insight into his financial connections to both WestExec and Ridgeline.