President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner "has been notably removed from coronavirus-related operations" in recent weeks after taking a leading role on supply chain issues, multiple White House officials told The Daily Beast.
Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, are working on an effort with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on plans to reopen the economy, which will require a large increase in testing and a reliable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals. But Kushner has been absent from the efforts to scale up testing and PPE supplies despite leading a "shadow" coronavirus task force to beef up the supply chain.
One White House official told The Daily Beast that it was "unclear" what Kushner and his team had been doing over the past two weeks. Another source told the outlet that Kushner's team had not provided any updates in "about a week."
One administration official defended Kushner by arguing that "there is less requirement of Jared on a day-to-day basis," because the supply chain has allegedly improved. State officials have rejected that claim, noting that many hospitals are still short on supplies and testing is nowhere near the scale it needs to reach in order to start easing social distancing restrictions.
The complaints have drawn Trump's ire, but none of it has been directed toward Kushner. The Daily Beast reported that the president has privately been "defensive" about his son-in-law's role and complained to aides that Kushner has not gotten the praise from the media which he deserves.
"[Jared] could be in his office just googling 'coronavirus,' show the results to the president and still get a gold sticker from his dad-in-law," one senior administration official who works with the coronavirus task force told the outlet. "He is solving the coronavirus like he's bringing peace to the [Middle East]."
Congress has been less impressed. The House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Homeland Security Committee have called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to turn over communications related to Kushner. However, the agency has reportedly not responded.
The chairs of the two committees said they were "troubled" that Kushner might be "circumventing protocols that ensure all states' requests are handled appropriately" and "directing FEMA and HHS officials to prioritize specific requests from people who are able to get Kushner on the phone."
Kushner's attempts to improve the system have actually disrupted the supply chain, former Homeland Security officials said.
"He muddied up a process that was really not needing a fix," Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, told The Daily Beast. "What that does is disempower FEMA, because if at any moment Jared or one of his henchmen demand assets to be redistributed at their discretion, FEMA's planning gets disrupted. I've never seen operations on something this scale being run out of the White House. Usually, it's policy and communications that they handle . . . but you would never run logistical operations out of the White House."
Kushner and his team, which includes tech start-up entrepreneurs whom White House officials have derided as a "frat party" that "descended from a UFO and invaded the federal government," ostensibly set out to improve the logistics around ventilators, testing and PPE. Kushner cast a wide net, apparently even recruiting Dr. Kurt Kloss, the father of Kushner's sister-in-law and supermodel Karlie Kloss, who polled his Facebook friends for advice to fix the response effort.
"I've put members of my team into a lot of components," he told The New York Times. "What we've been able to do is get people very quick answers."
Kushner has worked the phones to provide equipment to states in dire need, drawing praise from New York's Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio, both Democrats. But he was also instrumental in creating "Project Airbridge," a federal effort to fly supplies in from China for private companies to sell to states in the U.S. The program has been criticized for subsidizing big pharmaceutical companies with taxpayer dollars and allowing the companies to in turn sell the equipment to states without regulating the costs.
Hospital officials and governors have also complained that FEMA has confiscated ventilators and PPE from states, which the agency denies. State officials told The Daily Beast that Kushner's team "has interfered with the supply chain so much so that they are unable to hold on to the supplies they bought."
"We are still hearing reports that the administration is causing chaos for states looking to acquire [personal protective equipment] and other medical equipment. Worse yet, they are providing Congress with little details on their current operations and how they will improve," House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told the outlet. "It is incredibly troubling that Jared Kushner, someone with no public health or emergency management experience, seems to have a leading role in leading the response to this pandemic."
Thompson and Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., demanded answers from FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor about Kushner's work behind the scenes.
"It appears that Mr. Kushner is unclear about basic facts regarding the purpose of the Strategic National Stockpile," the chairs said in a letter. "We request that FEMA provide . . . all communications between any FEMA employee and Jared Kushner regarding the acquisition, distribution of, or federally directed sale of any form of PPE or of medical supplies and equipment to be used for the diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19."