Kushner reportedly helping lead a 'shadow' coronavirus taskforce

It appears the official White House Coronavirus Taskforce isn't necessarily alone.
Image: Donald Trump, Jared Kushner
White House Senior Adviser and envoy, Jared Kushner, listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 25, 2017 in Washington.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP file
By Steve Benen

There's already been some confusion about who, exactly, is in charge of the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus crisis. Is it Vice President Mike Pence, who's leading the White House Coronavirus Taskforce? Is it Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who's described himself as the chair of the taskforce? Maybe it's Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator?

Complicating matters, it appears the official White House Coronavirus Taskforce isn't necessarily alone. The Washington Post reported:

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser, has created his own team of government allies and private industry representatives to work alongside the administration's official coronavirus task force, adding another layer of confusion and conflicting signals within the White House's disjointed response to the crisis.

The fact that the president's young son-in-law is involved in the federal response is not new. Politico reported last week that he's taking on a key role in guiding Trump on combating the pandemic. CNN's White House correspondent added the same day that Kushner is "becoming more involved" in the administration's coronavirus response, with one source telling the network that the president's son-in-law is "in total control."

But now we're getting a better sense as to what that means as a practical matter. According to the Post's reporting, Kushner is principally concerned with drive-through virus testing sites, and he's working with the private sector on the endeavor.

And while that may sound uncontroversial, some in the administration have apparently begun describing Kushner's team as a "shadow" taskforce -- not to be confused with the actual taskforce -- which is "causing confusion among many officials involved in the response."

Two senior officials said some government officials have become increasingly confused as they have received emails from private industry employees on Kushner's team and have been on conference calls with them, unsure what their exact role is in the government response. Several people involved in the response said the involvement of outside advisers — who are emailing large groups of government employees from private email addresses — also raises legitimate security concerns about whether these advisers are following proper government protocols.

One senior official told the Post, "We don't know who these people are. Who is this? We're all getting these emails."

There's no shortage of concerns. It's not clear why Kushner, for example, would be involved in the federal response at all. But this reporting also coincides with a related report from Mother Jones' David Corn, who noted this week that Kushner and his brother helped launch a company called Oscar, which is "now marketing a website that aims to direct consumers to coronavirus testing locations."