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The White House on Wednesday pushed back on reports that a team assembled by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, flubbed the task of procuring personal protective equipment desperately needed by health care workers on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus.
Senior administration officials defended the efforts of the group of volunteers from consulting and private equity firms in obtaining N95 respirator masks, gloves and other protective equipment, ventilators and testing supplies and questioned the legitimacy of a whistleblower complaint filed last month to the House Oversight Committee.
“I'm proud of this team and the efforts that they made to help this administration accomplish its incredible successes on the supply chain, on the procurement on ventilators and on testing in a historically short period of time,” Kushner told Fox News.
Both the Washington Post and the New York Times reported on complaints of mismanagement and political favoritism occurring within the team of about two dozen volunteers from Boston Consulting Group, Insight, McKinsey and other firms. The complaint said that while there were some qualified volunteers, many were poorly matched to their roles – including those tasked with getting PPE supplies to hospitals, according to a copy obtained by the Post.
The complaint was allegedly filed by a former volunteer who wished for anonymity from the Washington Post due to fears of retribution from the Trump administration.
“Americans are facing a crisis of tragic proportions and there is an urgent need for an effective, efficient and bold response,” reads the complaint, which was sent to the committee on April 8. “From my few weeks as a volunteer, I believe we are falling short. 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.”
The complaint also added that volunteers were supposed to fast-track PPE leads from a spreadsheet marked “VIP Update,” according to the New York Times. The names on the spreadsheet included Republican members of Congress, conservative activists and journalists, and a former “Apprentice” contestant who serves as the campaign chair of Women for Trump.
A senior administration official told Fox News that while the volunteers did not have previous experience in government procurement, they were experts in the process of screening proposals and elevating legitimate ones up the chain of command. The official said there was no “VIP” list and that no contracts for supplies were awarded to politically connected sources.
Additionally, the official told Fox News that Kushner’s team did not sign any bad contracts and that, unlike other countries, “we have not bought any crap.” The official did say that on occasion, there were tensions as the volunteers, who were used to the tempo of private entrepreneurship ran up against bureaucratic resistance, and that there were several instances of problems in communicating across the vast government landscape
After a period of time, the duties of the volunteers were moved over to FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center (NRCC). The official said when Kushner told FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and Adm. John Polowcyk that he was going to disband the volunteer group, both men asked him to keep the project going. It has since been dissolved.
During a meeting with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump defended the work of the volunteers and denied that any political connections were used in procuring the PPE supplies.
“These were young brilliant people who came in to volunteer,” Trump said. “I think they helped us a lot.”
On the reports of political favoritism when tracking leads, Trump added: “I don’t even know that. … I don’t believe any of these kids would have knowledge of any of these companies.”
Kushner himself has frequently touted the administration’s efforts in both procuring PPE supplies and ramping up testing for COVID-19.
"We figured out how to really stimulate that supply," Kushner said during an April interview on “The Next Revolution.” "We're anticipating for the month of May, the number we were originally asked to do, we can exceed it. ... We think we can double that number and we should have more than ample amount of tests in the market for the month of May."