The California Globe has confirmed with two sources that Richard C Blum, who is married to California’s senior US Senator, Dianne Feinstein, is in talks with the Biden transition committee about an ambassadorship. The understanding is that if such an opportunity were provided to Blum, an investor and philanthropist, Feinstein would exit the US Senate.
Feinstein has served in the US Senate for 28 years, having first been elected in a 1992 special election to fill the seat of Senator Pete Wilson, who resigned to become California’s governor. Democrats have been searching for a gentle way to ease the 87-year-old Feinstein out of office. That push assumed greater urgency with the publication of a devastating article in the New Yorker earlier this month.
Headlined, “Dianne Feinstein’s Missteps Raise a Painful Age Question Among Senate Democrats,” Jane Mayer’s story detailed how Feinstein, the Senate’s oldest member, repeatedly forgets things that she’s just been told. The ruinous opening anecdote describes how Feinstein zinged Jack Dorsey with a question about whether the Twitter CEO was sufficiently challenging disinformation. After Dorsey responded, Feinstein posed precisely the same question again, word for word.
The article goes on to describe an increasingly untenable situation.
“Many others familiar with Feinstein’s situation describe her as seriously struggling, and say it has been evident for several years. … they say her short-term memory has grown so poor that she often forgets she has been briefed on a topic, accusing her staff of failing to do so just after they have. They describe Feinstein as forgetting what she has said and getting upset when she can’t keep up. One aide to another senator described what he called a “Kabuki” meeting in which Feinstein’s staff tried to steer her through a proposed piece of legislation that she protested was “just words” which “make no sense.” Feinstein’s staff has said that sometimes she seems herself, and other times unreachable.”
The memory loss has intensified worries that have been gnawing at Feinstein’s colleagues and supporters for years.
In 2018, it emerged that Feinstein’s driver and staffer of 20 years was a Chinese spy. CBS SF reported “He even attended Chinese consulate functions for the senator” and the incident led to mocking headlines such as “The Spy Who Drove Her.” In another instance that had many wondering how closely the senator was following the details, Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee reportedly embezzled “at least $4.5 million” from Feinstein’s 2012 campaign.
Under pressure from Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Feinstein recently relinquished her leadership on the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is a role that she relished, but it led to intense criticism from all sides when Feinstein maladroitly procrastinated after Christine Blasey Ford alleged to her that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had assaulted her at a high school party.
According to the two sources, “Dick Blum began calling trusted confidantes over the last several days to wish Happy Holidays.” The conversation would then pivot to which country might provide the levels of prestige, fun and influence that would make a late-in-life commitment worth it. According to one source, France is the country most attractive to Blum.
A graceful exit for Feinstein
The thinking goes that a plum ambassadorship for Blum would provide a graceful way for the proud and occasionally ornery senator to exit a position that may have become too much for a woman who will be over 90 in 2024, when her current term ends.
Two emails, a phone call and a text to Sen. Feinstein’s press office were not returned as of press time. This story will be updated with comment from Feinstein and Blum if they can be reached.
As a prominent Democratic fundraiser with deep experience in international affairs, an ambassadorship for Blum would not be a shocking development. Having founded Blum Capital in 1975 and Newbridge Capital in 1994, Blum has served as chairman or board member for many corporations with global reach, including CB Richard Ellis, Australia-based Myer Pty Ltd., Northwest Airlines, and Korea First Bank. He also has a longstanding interest in Asia, having founded and chaired the American Himalayan Foundation and served honorary positions as a conduit to Mongolia and Nepal. He has government experience of his own, as well, having served on President Obama’s Global Development Council.
A lifelong Californian, Blum married Feinstein in 1980 when she was mayor of San Francisco — her third marriage and his second. His activities have included much charitable giving, including naming the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley. In 2002, Gov. Gray Davis named Blum to a 12-year term to the Board of Regents of the University of California, and he was re-appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014.
In the aftermath of the Varsity Blues scandal, Blum was outed by a state audit as having “inappropriately penned a letter that likely helped a borderline student gain admission to UC Berkeley,” his alma mater and a frequent beneficiary of his largesse. According to the Mercury News, “the audit called the incident ‘particularly problematic,’ since UC policy specifically says that regents should not seek to influence admissions decisions beyond sending letters of recommendation through the regular admissions process, which Blum appears to have sidestepped.”
Blum has also been scrutinized in the past for his ownership stakes in companies that have business before the US Senate. In 2018, for example, Feinstein failed to disclose that Blum “owned more than $100,000 in Facebook shares until after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to the Senate.” The Senator corrected the oversight after Blum’s stake was reported.
Blum’s firm also held a majority stake in California military contractor Tutor Perini, which was awarded billions in contracts during the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some government watchdogs opining that the position provided a fatal conflict of interest for Sen. Feinstein, who voted to authorize the use of military force in Iraq in 2002. During the financial crisis, Feinstein sponsored legislation to provide $25 billion in public money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, which awarded CB Richard Ellis what the Washington Times characterized as “a lucrative contract to sell foreclosed properties at compensation rates higher than the industry norms.”