CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
202-408-5565 | [email protected]
Washington—Jared Kushner’s shadow coronavirus task force appears to be violating both the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by using private email accounts with no assurance their communications are being preserved and by meeting in secret, according to a letter sent today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The failure of the White House to comply with any of the PRA and FACA requirements leaves the public in the dark about the work the shadow task force has done and the influence of private industries on the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kushner’s task force, composed of a team of allies from within the government and representatives from private industries, has operated adjacent to the official government task force spearheaded by Vice President Pence. With confusion over the shadow task force’s role and who its members are, and reports that the members of the shadow task force communicate using private email accounts, CREW has reason to believe the White House is not creating and maintaining accurate and complete records of the shadow task force’s activities as required by the PRA.
“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,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “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.”
The PRA requires the president and his staff to document, preserve and maintain records of “the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of the President’s constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties.” With Kushner at the head, the shadow task force’s development and implementation of federal strategies to address the coronavirus pandemic fall within these requirements.
The shadow task force also appears to fall under FACA provisions, which are triggered whenever a committee within the Executive Office of the President is advising the president and is not “composed wholly of full-time, or permanent part-time, officers or employees of the Federal Government.” The FACA prohibits such committees from being “inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest.” Contrary to the FACA’s requirements, the shadow task force is operating in secret, with neither the members of Kushner’s committee nor their interests fully disclosed to the public. Understanding and preserving the committee’s actions and conversations will be key in understanding how the administration ultimately decided to approach its COVID-19 response efforts.
“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,” said Bookbinder. “There is no excuse for hiding information from the public that affects their lives in an extraordinary time.”
Photo by Gage Skidmore.