• Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President Donald Trump, formed a volunteer-staffed, “shadow” White House task force to help the US government acquire medical equipment during the coronavirus outbreak. 
  • But according to a new report in The New York Times, the group fumbled these efforts by prioritizing tips and bids from close Trump associates, rather than from experienced and legitimate suppliers.
  • The group was told to prioritize those with special connections, and even tracked tips from close Trump allies on a spreadsheet titled “V.I.P. Update,” according to The Times.
  • Among those prioritized were conservative activist Charlie Kirk and a former “Apprentice” contestant, The Times noted.
  • The White House has not yet responded to Business Insider’s request for comment.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When the coronavirus outbreak came to the US, there were concerns about healthcare workers getting the protective gear that they needed.

So White House advisor Jared Kushner formed a group of volunteers to sort through hundreds of leads on personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, and funnel the most promising ones to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is in charge of distributing supplies to states and medical workers.

But according to a new report by The New York Times, the volunteers were in fact prioritizing tips from close associates of President Donald Trump, resulting in multiple botched deals. 

Meanwhile, experienced vendors were ignored and healthcare workers resorted to making their own protective clothing, or risked their lives even more by going without. 

Doctors, nurses, and public health workers protest over a lack of PPE and sick pay in the Bronx, New York, on April 17, 2020.
Giles Clarke/Getty images

The group — made up of mostly young volunteers from the venture capital and private-equity worlds — was led at one point by Rachael Baitel, a 2014 Princeton graduate who previously worked as an assistant to Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and Kushner’s wife.

According to the Times, Baitel told the group to prioritize leads from the politically connected. 

They even tracked these tips from close Trump associates and allies on a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” according to documents and emails seen by the Times. 

Among those prioritized were conservative activist Charlie Kirk, who formed Turning Point USA, and former “Apprentice” contestant Tana Goertz, who now runs the “Women for Trump” group, The Times noted.

President Donald Trump greets Charlie Kirk before participating in a forum called Generation Next at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, in March 2018.

By giving preference to these VIPs, the federal government ended up making some bad deals. 

Perhaps most noteworthy was the $69 million contract given to Silicon Valley engineer Yaron Oren-Pines to provide 1,000 ventilators to New York state after he tweeted at the president. Oren-Pines never delivered and now the state is trying to recoup the costs.

In a similar incident, the Times reported that a Pennsylvania dentist named Dr. Albert Hazzouri used his Trump connections to push FEMA to buy from his associates, including a promised 100,000 test kits from Mexico.

But none of his tips actually resulted in a single supply contract.

Legitimate vendors with legitimate supplies were ignored 

Meanwhile, legitimate vendors were being ignored.

The Times spoke to a Dr. Jeffrey Hendricks, who had established connections to manufacturers in China who could provide millions of face masks, but says he struggled to get the volunteer group to consider his offer seriously. He has since sold his supplies, mostly to hospitals in Michigan. 

“When I offered them viable leads at viable prices from an approved vendor, they kept passing me down the line and made terrible deals instead,” Hendricks said. 

The Times also reported on how Fox host Jeanine Pirro secured 100,000 masks for a hospital she favored by repeatedly calling the task force members, which was confirmed by a separate report in the Washington Post. The Post report added that Pirro’s Fox colleague Brian Kilmeade also had a request about PPE fast-tracked.

The White House did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Officials who spoke to the Times said that the volunteer force might not have been needed had Trump assigned FEMA to lead the coronavirus response earlier than mid-March.

But the lateness at which FEMA joined in the government response meant the agency was desperate for any help acquiring PPE.

This isn’t the first time that Kushner’s shadow coronavirus task force has come under criticism.

In late March, The Washington Post reported that Kushner’s group was causing confusion since it seemed to compete with Vice President Mike Pence’s official White House task force.

The Times reported in early April that Kushner’s group was using a free conference call website and personal gmail accounts to arrange meetings and conduct business, with one official calling the group a “frat party.”

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Read The New York Times report here.

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