Susan Rice, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is one of the leading contenders to become presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate. If the ticket wins, she would make history as the first Black person and woman to serve as vice president, and she would bring decades of experience working in government to the post.
It’s unclear ― and potentially worrying ― what she would bring from another portion of her career. Rice worked in private consulting in 2001 and 2002 after serving in the White House and State Department under President Bill Clinton. That’s a common line of work for former officials in Washington, but it can involve morally dubious choices, like defending violations of human rights or democratic norms, and create conflicts of interest when these figures return to power and make decisions affecting the same clients who were recently paying them millions of dollars and could do so again in the future.
Even in the event that prior relationships do not have a bearing on one’s actions in a public office, just the perception of a conflict of interest can undermine the effectiveness of U.S. policy and faith in government.
In Rice’s case, public scrutiny of potential conflicts is especially hard because she has largely hidden who her clients were when she was a part-time consultant for Intellibridge, a now-shuttered firm that conducted geopolitical research. Her closeness to one client whose identity is publicly known ― Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame, the country’s president since 2000 ― has previously raised concerns among human rights groups and fellow officials.
It appears Rice concentrated on contracts with African countries ― approaching some of the same officials she had already built ties to as a diplomat, now on behalf of private interests. She and Gayle Smith, another former Clinton administration official, “worked to sell Intellibridge services to African government...