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Biden expresses gratitude to billionaire friends for use of St Croix villa as he returns to D.C.

By Sarah May
|
January 4, 2023

As the long holiday break came to an end for millions on Monday, President Joe Biden boarded Air Force One with a group of family members who had joined him for a tropical St. Croix getaway during which he stayed – presumably for free – at a luxurious beachfront property owned by uber-rich Democratic donor friends, Bill and Connie Neville, as the Daily Mail reports.

Just before he got on the plane, Biden was seen bidding a fond farewell to the pair, likely thanking them for their hospitality, which was also extended to first lady Jill Biden, first daughter Ashley Biden and her husband, Howard Krein, and two of the president's grandchildren, 18-year-old Natalie and 16-year-old Hunter.

Invitations exchanged

As the New York Post noted, the Nevilles were among the lucky few who received invitations to the Dec. 1 state dinner honoring French President Emmanuel Macron, after having given the Bidens access to their St. Croix villa on prior occasions to their most recent jaunt.

Though the Post indicated that it remained unclear whether the Bidens' Christmastime trip was on the calendar in advance of the state dinner, the outlet did report that the first family did not compensate the Nevilles for use of the property situated in the picturesque U.S. Virgin Islands.

The villa itself is said to boast its own in-ground pool, stunning views, direct access to the beach, and lush landscapes that would be the envy of any traveler and would command top dollar from tourists paying their own way.

According to resort property website VRBO, ordinary travelers would need to part with at least $700 per night, depending on the season, in order to experience the accommodations enjoyed by the Bidens this holiday season and, reportedly, a number of other times in past years.

Ethics concerns raised

While arrangements such as the Bidens appear to have with the Nevilles has raised a number of concerns over the years, former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter explained to the Post that it can be “extremely difficult to prove” the existence of any corrupt intent, even if the timing between vacation freebies and invitations to state dinners seems questionable.

Painter said, “If it was a quid pro quo – state dinner in return for a vacation house, that would be a problem. But you usually can't prove those quid pro quos.”

“The overarching problem,” Painter added, “is the rich tend to have access here to the president. And you often give the president free use of your place. And then somehow, miraculously of course, you get invited to a state dinner. And you know, this is lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

One potential check on the situation, according to Painter, is the fact that Biden is required to report the gift of lodging on his yearly financial disclosure forms.

However, despite that obligation, Biden reportedly did not follow through with such reporting for previous trips to the Nevilles' home during his tenure as vice president, something which was arguably a violation of false-statements laws – an offense that Painter says is rarely prosecuted due to the difficulties in proving an intent to deceive.

Not the first time

The Bidens' willingness to accept the Nevilles' generosity is something they have demonstrated with regard to a number of other prominent Democratic donors.

Just last summer, the first family indulged in another high-end vacation at no cost to themselves, this time at the $20 million Kiawah Island, South Carolina estate of mega-donor Maria Allwin, who has hosted the Bidens on a number of occasions over the years, as the Washington Examiner noted.

“They stayed here before and they're not paying,” a source informed the New York Post at the time. “They've never paid,” the insider added.

Over Thanksgiving, another gaggle of Bidens joined the president and first lady for a stay at the Nantucket mansion of private-equity billionaire David Rubenstein, as the Post separately reported.

That visit was also one of many prior indulgences undertaken by the commander in chief's extended clan, having made the same trip for Thanksgiving 2021 as well as in 2014, during Biden's tenure as vice president.

Bad look

Regardless of the prickly ethical ambiguities involved when a sitting president accepts free lodging at luxury properties as standard practice, the first family's post-Christmas trip to St. Croix was characterized by particularly bad optics, considering that much of the U.S. was simultaneously in the grip of a deadly winter storm, something that did not escape the notice of the president's critics, as Newsweek noted.

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), one of Biden's most vocal congressional detractors, tweeted, “MASSIVE winter storms paralyzed the country and Biden was taking a beach vacation in the Caribbean. Where was the media to demand he return to the White House to work? Did anyone even notice he was gone?”