Kushner's shadow coronavirus task force prioritized requests from Fox News hosts: whistleblower

Volunteers were allegedly instructed to prioritize leads from Trump-connected “VIPs,” including conservative media

Published May 6, 2020 3:21PM (EDT)

Jared Kushner (Getty/Saul Loeb)
Jared Kushner (Getty/Saul Loeb)

A volunteer with Jared Kushner's shadow White House coronavirus task force has filed a complaint with the House Oversight Committee, alleging an array of improprieties, including unfit staffing choices and self-made failures to get desperately needed personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals.

The whistleblower, who is no longer with the task force, claims in the report acquired by The Washington Post that volunteers on a team tasked with procuring PPE had little to no experience in either healthcare, procurement or supply-chain management.

They allegedly did not bring any relationships with relevant manufacturers to the table nor had an adequate grasp of federal regulations, such as for customs or the Food and Drug Administration, the complaint said.

"Americans are facing a crisis of tragic proportions, and there is an urgent need for an effective, efficient and bold response. From my few weeks as a volunteer, I believe we are falling short," the complaint read. "I am writing to alert my representatives of these challenges and to ask that they do everything possible to help front-line health-care workers and other Americans in need."

Two senior administration officials corroborated the allegations in the complaint, which was submitted to Congress on April 8, to The Post.

Though Kushner gave himself high marks, hailing the work of his private, irregular channel as a "great success story," his "princely arrogance" allegedly stymied the administration's pandemic response by weeks.

"Jared is running everything," a former White House official told Vanity Fair. "He's the de facto president of the United States."

Citing "numerous government officials and a volunteer involved in the effort," The Post reported that Kushner cobbled together a team of volunteers from consulting and private equity firms, including Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey, some of whom were on paid vacation time.

The recruits were said to be green and unfamiliar with the fields Kushner picked out for them, which cinched shut a supply chain bottleneck and created "chronic problems" for securing equipment.

The allegations range to nepotism. Some volunteers were instructed to prioritize leads from Trump-connected "VIPs," including conservative journalists, the whistleblower claimed.

The complaint specific cites two Fox News personalities: "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade, who contacted the administration with a lead for purchasing PPE, and Jeanine Pirro, who "repeatedly lobbed" the squad to deliver large shipments of masks to an unnamed New York hospital. 

A Fox News spokesperson told The Post that Kilmeade and Pirro were unaware that Kushner had fast-traced their requests ahead of others.

"These volunteers are true patriots," Kushner, who married the president's daughter, said in a statement, claiming the group sourced tens of millions of masks "in record time" and got enough ventilators for everyone.

"That's the danger — there may be decisions being made that are not fully informed and that's going to lead to downstream effects on the response," Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an infectious-disease physician, told The Post.

"The people that are volunteering, they are donating their time and we have to be grateful for that, but whoever is supervising them needs to match their skills with what the needs are," he said.

To a degree, some matchmaking seems to have been appropriate. One set of volunteers was tasked with creating models, such as for PPE demand and potential medicine shortfalls.

Administration officials scrapped those models for being "too catastrophic," turning to sunnier models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which projected some of the lowest total infection and death counts. Those projections were revised upwards by double this week.

"I believe the volunteers are competent, hard working and intelligent, but we represent a smaller procurement team than at most mid-sized companies despite the magnitude of the crisis," the whistleblower wrote in the complaint.

"I believe America deserves a larger, better-funded response. The team generally works 12+ hour days, seven days per week, but frankly has little to show for it."

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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Coronavirus Covid-19 Donald Trump Fox News Jared Kushner Politics Tv