Billionaire Peter Thiel's solitary support for Donald Trump is not his only tie to the new administration: A company he co-founded, Palantir, also receives millions of dollars annually from the federal government.
In helping Trump, Thiel will likely have to be careful to limit his reach over decisions that impact Palantir's multimillion-dollar contracts, as well as his large web of investments across the technology sector, experts said.
Thiel, known best for co-founding PayPal and sitting on the board of Facebook, is a member of the Trump transition team, where he will assist the president-elect in making about 4,000 political appointments, shape policy agendas and assess the scope of the president's $4 trillion budget, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.
Trae Stephens, a principal at Thiel's Founders Fund, which has invested in Palantir, and a former Palantir employee himself, has also been tapped for the transition team working on defense, according to Bloomberg.
"If [Thiel]'s in the room where they start talking about Facebook's fake news, or an issue about a national security program that affects their interests — even if they don't mention Palantir — if he's in the room and they start talking about them, he's got to leave the room," said Norman Eisen, who worked on the Obama transition team and served as special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform.
"And if he does work on the NSA [for Trump] and suddenly one of the issues that Palantir billed on comes up, he can't call the NSA and say, 'Hey, remember me.'"
It's unclear what his role is in the transition, but Thiel is no stranger to working with the government: Palantir received about $83 million from the government this year and is backed by the CIA's venture arm, In-Q-Tel. The company already had strong "relationships up at the fort," or NSA, according to emails leaked by WikiLeaks.
In joining the team, Thiel and Stephens would likely have signed the Trump transition team's code of ethics, which requires they disqualify themselves from involvement in any particular transition matter which may directly conflict with a financial interest, and address any appearance of a conflict with the general counsel. (A spokesperson for Thiel declined to say whether either had signed the agreement.)
That's no small task, given Thiel's portfolio of start-up investments in everything from health insurance to advertising to energy, and Palantir's "tens of thousands" of users across the Department of Defense and intelligence community.
While Thiel has much at stake in the financial decision of Trump's nominees, he doesn't have to deal with the rigorous ethics agreement that limits those who will be officially employed by the Trump administration, and often requires blind trusts and the divestiture of assets.
Meanwhile, thanks to a recent hard-fought lawsuit, Palantir is free to bid on an even juicier contract under Trump's administration: an Army computer system that's reportedly worth more than $200 million. Palantir is also sparring with the Department of Labor over its hiring practices.
The start-up is notable for being ultra-secretive, making its ties to the new administration less obvious.