The Brothers Bankman-Fried

Last week, Gabe Bankman-Fried—brother of S.B.F.— was threatened with a subpoena by FTX, Sam’s former company.
Last week, Gabe Bankman-Fried—S.B.F.’S younger brother— was threatened with a subpoena by FTX, Sam’s former company. Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
January 31, 2023

Things got real for Sam BankmanFried last year when he was indicted. Things got real for Gabe Bankman-Fried last week when Sam’s former company, FTX, threatened Gabe with a subpoena for failing to cooperate with their investigation. It was, after all, Gabe’s first appearance in a legal filing associated with the collapse of his older brother’s $32 billion crypto empire—the precipitating event that capsized Gabe’s career, too.

Of course, it was S.B.F.’s meteoric success that super-charged his brother’s political career in the first place. Gabe was barely out of college, in 2019, when Sam founded FTX and began channeling hundreds of millions of dollars into politics and philanthropy. Sam envisioned a 50-year campaign for influence, and he entrusted Gabe to make it happen. The Kimbal to Sam’s Elon, Gabe would work to give away the fortune, running Sam’s political portfolio and setting up the family foundation that directed Sam’s personal giving. One person who has worked with the brothers said that Sam always struck them as “deferential” to his 28-year-old brother, with Gabe often taking meetings on Sam’s behalf.

Gabe has always impressed me with how he managed to keep a sense of perspective despite all the craziness as Sam rose. Since childhood, he’s been the more socially adept of the two brothers—“gregarious” as one person who knows him put it—but Gabe is more similar to Sam than he is different. They grew up as best friends in an unusually tight-knit family, sharing a love of “bughouse” chess—a team-based variant using multiple chessboards simultaneously—the Giants, and video games; attending the same middle-school math camps and, later, effective altruism conferences.

Gabe has tried to keep perspective during Sam’s fall, too. In the weeks since S.B.F.’s implosion, Gabe’s phone and inbox have been filled with supportive messages from friends and former colleagues. Gabe tends to respond with emojis, iPhone reactions, or other quick messages that suggest the conversation need not go any further. People who know him have described his public demeanor recently as almost lighthearted, with Gabe flying back and forth between Washington and Palo Alto, playing video games and visiting friends. “He’s seemed like a relatively normal person dealing with an absolutely gobsmacked thing that just happened to him,” one friend told me. “He’s well-adjusted, but there’s a surreal aspect to it.” Privately, of course, he is likely more anxious than he lets on about his legal exposure, with the Southern District of New York potentially ready to portray him as a fixer to a fraudster.

Unlike his parents, Barbara and Joe, tenured Stanford Law professors who have already enjoyed successful careers, Gabe was just starting out. But fairly or not, Gabe will be forever marked by his uniquely hyphenated last name, something that people in his orbit joke he should probably change. When I speak to sources, even those who are just neutral observers, Gabe engenders a lot of sympathy, not to mention regret from Sam himself. “I feel terrible about what happened to all the things he’s trying to do,” S.B.F. told me when I interviewed him at home earlier this month. “He’s family. He’s been supportive, even when he didn’t have to be.” But when you live by your big brother, you die by your big brother. And Gabe always understood that. 

The Rise of “G.B.F.”

Prior to becoming the lobbying consigliere to one of the world’s richest people, Gabe was a precocious, sneakily well-connected but definitely inexperienced political operative. Gabe graduated from Brown in 2017 with a computer science degree and spent two very brief stints at Jane Street, the cutthroat trading firm where Sam also worked, and then at Civis Analytics, a Democratic data consulting firm. 

In Gabe’s official biography, since deleted from the web, he claims that at Civis he “improved private House forecasting and resource allocation models that advised Democratic Political Action Committees and large donors giving hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2018 midterm elections.” That sounds like at least a lot of overlap with Mind the Gap, Barbara Fried’s buzzy donor-advisory group and a Civis client.

Last week, the organization told me that Gabe was never employed by Mind the Gap and was also never involved in their activities. But that’s not really accurate, according to documents I’ve since obtained. In emails from Barbara to a small group of friends who helped develop the idea during the 2018 midterms, Gabe is included and weighs in from time to time. He is included on notes about a “weekly meeting” with Mind the Gap, offers to jump on Mind the Gap calls with vendors, and fields inbound pitches alongside his mom. In one email, for instance, Barbara says that Gabe (and a few others) have the “technical competency” to produce data analysis that can convince large donors to support Mind the Gap. Suffice to say that Gabe was certainly in Mind the Gap’s inner circle. (A spokesperson for the group clarified this week that Gabe was involved in a volunteer capacity.)

After Mind the Gap’s successful run during the 2018 midterms, Gabe wanted to work in politics and got an introduction to Sean Casten, an Illinois congressman who was elected in part via the group’s fundraising efforts. Casten hired Gabe, who he would frequently name-check to donors affiliated with Mind the Gap when he raised money for his reelection campaign during the 2020 cycle, a source told me. Casten’s office also asked Gabe if he would help Casten with fundraising on the side, a source said, but he declined. Technically, Gabe worked for Casten as a lowly legislative correspondent—a junior gig, especially on the House side—where he handled menial work like correspondence and managed a small legislative portfolio that included U.S. Postal Service issues. 

Nevertheless, Gabe had powerful relationships and unusual access to capital for a twentysomething staffer. In mid-2021, after leaving Casten’s office and as Sam became mega-rich, he began developing Guarding Against Pandemics, a lobbying group that Sam would fund with tens of millions of dollars over the next year or two. The project presented Gabe with a political and intellectual challenge: how to make pandemic prevention, an issue that polled well, into an actual priority for a town with a million other priorities. 

But Gabe took to it with alacrity. Armed with access to his brother’s fortune, he rapidly built what would become a sprawling influence operation, hiring tons of lobbyists and consultants who explored everything from small-dollar fundraising to research into obscure science-policy programs. In April 2022, he bought a $3.3 million townhouse that served as a wine-and-dine shop for Official Washington, a sign that the Bankman-Fried boys were there to stay.

Gabe believed in, and placed a particular emphasis on, cultivating relationships with the right. After all, while Gabe was a Democrat—he was the link between Sam and Carrick Flynn, who S.B.F. supported in a disastrous Oregon Democratic primary on a GAP-aligned platform—his focus was really on the inside game. And at GAP, at least, it was Gabe, not Sam, who called the shots. When Gabe learned that Gavin Newsom’s team wouldn’t support a pandemic-prevention ballot initiative that GAP was supporting with $10 million, Gabe was ripshit, feeling like the Newsom team misled him after GAP spent money to help beat Newsom’s recall, a source told me. GAP ended up intentionally self-sabotaging its own ballot initiative and kicking it to 2024.

Gabe became an unexpected power player in Washington—popular in part because people genuinely liked him, but also, of course, because people genuinely loved his money. He was also not naive about his privileged position. He was well-aware there was no way he would have run a well-funded, well-known lobbying group in his mid-20s if he was not lucky enough to be born as Sam’s brother. “G.B.F.,” as some called him (yes, he approached coveted D.C. initialism status), was welcomed alongside S.B.F. at congressional policy retreats. He had an executive assistant. He hosted congressmen at fundraisers with friends and spoke at ideas summits on pandemic-prevention topics. He was invited to a White House correspondents dinner weekend party (as a guest of Semafor, which launched with a $10 million investment delivered by Gabe) and to the White House itself, accompanying his brother for multiple lobbying meetings with senior Biden staff. 

Perhaps most important, Gabe became the primary gatekeeper to his brother’s multi-billion dollar fortune, with friends and national politicians and thought leaders, alike, all seeking introductions and Gabe’s blessing. “His position in society was obviously a very unusual one until the blowup—very young, but representing a lot of money in people’s heads,” said one person familiar with the dynamic. Even as Sam was desperately trying to raise emergency capital for FTX, last summer, Gabe was charging ahead with his brother’s other work, charting plans for “The Center for the Future” that would tackle all of the world’s great problems. But as Gabe would soon find out, the money wouldn’t be there for much of anything.

The Subpoena

When FTX declared bankruptcy, Gabe was at first shocked, and then tactical. He rapidly ascertained that he was about to become a target, or at least a political liability, for the work he cared about. Just a week after Sam’s scandal, Gabe decided to resign as the leader of GAP. “I’m not the right person to be making these decisions right now,” he told staff at an all-hands meeting. GAP would sunset shortly thereafter; this month, the group put the townhouse up for sale.

In the early stages of the firm’s collapse, there was hope among S.B.F. allies that any misconduct would be confined to his business and not touch his extracurricular work in politics and philanthropy. But that hope evaporated when Sam was arrested in the Bahamas. Upon his extradition to the U.S., the Southern District of New York also charged Sam with violating campaign-finance law, a vague accusation that could potentially implicate some of Sam’s political advisers. Gabe, more than anyone, sits at the top of that pyramid, meaning he could face real legal scrutiny—even if only as a squeeze-play by prosecutors to put more pressure on his brother.

Save for a few conspiracy theorists dredging up old Gabe photos and the like, most of the political attacks on Gabe have been minor: A freshman G.O.P. congressman, Troy Nehls, tried to make hay of Gabe’s history with Casten, insinuating that the relationship might have caused Casten, a member of the Financial Services Committee, to go soft on crypto regulation. Chuy Garcia, a Democratic congressman running for mayor of Chicago, has also been hounded by local press about his support from Gabe as his opponents try to make trouble over Garcia’s S.B.F. ties.

But the first real shoe to drop came on Thursday, when “Gabriel” made his first appearance by name in any legal filing associated with the case. FTX, which is conducting its own investigation into S.B.F., said that it had been seeking cooperation from Gabe, but that it had “not received meaningful engagement or any response” from the younger brother. To legal experts, that language reads like a prologue to a potential subpoena. FTX also alleged that GAP’s townhouse was “purchased using misappropriated customer funds,” presumably based on the theory that Sam’s assets, and therefore GAP’s, were never really his.

Gabe hasn’t said anything publicly about any of this—as someone who knows him pointed out, what is he going to say, that he was duped by his brother? But Gabe has to think about his own interests, which could theoretically diverge from those of his family, and Gabe has his own reputation to defend. He’s still young, with all the enormous advantages conferred by his birth, but his charmed career in politics is surely over, at least in the medium term. “His life is presumably ruined,” a person close to Gabe told me. “I think he’s going to face the highest consequences of anyone for behavior that is not his.”