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Lawmakers demand answers on Kushner supply chain influence

Chairs of two key House panels sent a letter to FEMA demanding information in a week on efforts by the president's senior adviser and son-in-law.
Image: White House Coronavirus Task Force Holds Daily Briefing
Jared Kushner with members of the White House coronavirus task force on Thursday, April 2, 2020.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Two Democratic House committee leaders are demanding answers from the Trump administration about Jared Kushner's role in directing and redirecting the flow of life-saving medical equipment among private companies, various levels of government and hospitals in need.

The demand came in a letter sent Tuesday, the day the Kushner-backed supply chain task force abandoned its "war room" at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's headquarters following the revelation that a "partner" of the agency who worked in the area had tested positive for coronavirus. The letter was sent by Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., to FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, giving an April 15 due date to provide files related to the efforts of Kushner, the president's senior adviser and son-in-law.

The White House has routinely ignored requests from Congress for information, and Trump was impeached by the House last year in part for directing aides to block House investigators from obtaining testimony and documents from the administration. He was acquitted by the Senate in February.

Thompson, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, and Maloney, chair of the Oversight and Government Committee, are seeking "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," according to the letter.

They're also requesting documentation of contacts between FEMA employees and private sector firms who are working on the coronavirus response on a voluntary basis, information on flights FEMA has arranged for private companies to bring medical equipment into the U.S. for sale, and an explanation of the practices and protocols the agency uses to determine and track the need for PPE and other items.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said the executive branch is focused on combating coronavirus.

“While Democrats sadly continue playing politics, Jared, the task force and the administration have been working around the clock to get lifesaving ventilators and PPE to hospitals and frontline workers throughout the country," he said.

Lawmakers are taking a keen interest in Kushner's involvement in Project Airbridge, a new program under which the federal government lines up and pays for flights to bring medical equipment into the U.S. from overseas for private companies. The federal government gets to determine where 50 percent of the goods are distributed — potentially redirecting shipments bound for one area of need in favor of another — but the company still gets paid for supplying them.

The committees are seeking documents on "all flights FEMA has scheduled through Project Airbridge, including the destinations of all such flights, and the manifests detailing the quantities and types of PPE and essential medical supplies and equipment carried to the U.S. on these flights," Thompson and Maloney wrote.

"We are troubled by reports that Mr. Kushner’s actions — and those of outside advisers he has assembled and tasked — may be 'circumventing protocols that ensure all states’ requests are handled appropriately,'" they wrote. "We are particularly troubled that Mr. Kushner’s work may even involve 'directing FEMA and HHS officials to prioritize specific requests from people who are able to get Kushner on the phone.'"

Now, all the work for the supply chain task force, which is technically under the command of Navy Rear Adm. John Polowczyk as one of the subunits of Vice President Mike Pence's coronavirus task force, is being done on the phone. Late Monday night, FEMA instructed that task force to work remotely "until further notice."