White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner is coming under fire once again. As President Donald Trump’s son-in-law is allegedly running a shadow coronavirus task force that appears to be violating both the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). More specifically done by using private email accounts with no assurance their communications are being preserved and meeting in secret.
Political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Trump counsel Pat Cipollone dated March 27th which states:
According to recent press reports, Mr. Kushner has assembled a team of allies within the government and with representatives from private industries to work with the administration’s official coronavirus task force. Other officials involved in the administration’s response to the coronavirus have calledthis team a “shadow task force” that issues requests “they interpret as orders they must balance with regular response efforts.” Of particular concern, these outside advisers do not appear to be following proper governmental protocols. For example, they are using private email addresses to email large groups of government employees, creating security concerns and sowing further confusion.
Mr. Kushner’s shadow task force appears to be violating key aspects of the PRA, and hisuse of it implicates the FACA’s public transparency provisions. The extraordinary measures needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic make these transparency and accountability requirements even more important.
The confusion over the shadow task force’s role, and even who its members are, reinforces the conclusion that the White House is not creating and maintaining accurate and complete records of the shadow task force’s activities in contravention of the PRA.
As reported, the shadow task force includes both industry representatives and government officials deemed by Mr. Kushner to be his allies. If this reporting is accurate, Mr. Kushner’s use of a committee composed of federal employees and non-governmental members to solicit advice on how the White House should address the coronavirus pandemic implicates the FACA. The failure of the White House to comply with any of the FACA’s requirements leaves the public in the dark about the advice the shadow task force has rendered and whether the committee is “fairly balanced” as the statute requires.
CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder told, “If there was ever a time we need records and transparency, this is it. As the seriousness of this pandemic continues to grow, the public needs to understand who in the White House is making policy decisions, who from private industry is influencing those decisions, and how decisions to address this pandemic are being made.” Plus he added, “After this crisis has passed, we will need to be able to look back at how this administration responded to the situation and have the full picture of what was going on behind closed doors in order to understand what we could do better in the future.”
He argued, “As the American people turn to their elected officials for guidance on how to respond to the crisis at hand, they need to know that their leaders are acting transparently and in accordance with the law.” Then claimed, “There is no excuse for hiding information from the public that affects their lives in an extraordinary time.”
Trump clearly has his hands full these days but this will certainly need to be addressed.