April 16, 2020

Warren, Blumenthal, Carper to Top White House Ethics Official: Ensure COVID-19 Decisions Serve the American Public, Not President Trump's & Jared Kushner's Financial Interests

Well-connected friends & donors with financial interests in hydroxychloroquine may have influenced the President's prioritization of the drug; Jared Kushner is running an opaque COVID-19 "shadow task force" of private sector advisors

Text of Letter (PDF)

Boston, MA -- United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.) sent a letter to the White House Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) raising ethics concerns about the fact that President Trump appears to be making decisions based on his and his advisors' financial interests and that his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, has reportedly been managing a "shadow task force" of select government officials and private sector actors tasked with responding to and addressing the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Senators Warren, Blumenthal, and Carper urge the DAEO to use his authority to make compliance with ethics and conflict of interest laws a priority for the White House during the pandemic.

"These reports are troubling: amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the American public should not have to worry that critical public health and economic decisions are being made in secret by public officials influenced by financial connections and personal ties," the senators wrote to Scott Gast, the White House DAEO. "You have the responsibility to make compliance with federal ethics law a priority for the White House during this pandemic."

Kushner's task force reportedly includes "a suite of McKinsey consultants," a private equity executive, and a host of other representatives from private industries. However, the Trump Administration has not disclosed who exactly comprises this task force, the vetting process for these members, and what specific role the members are playing in addressing issues related to the pandemic. Moreover, Kushner and his task force appear to have had a substantial, and often disruptive, influence over a series of White House policy initiatives related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and companies with connections to Kushner appear to be benefitting from White House and administration policies and decisions. Kushner's actions make it difficult to determine if decisions are being made to advance the public interest and if all appropriate ethics precautions are being taken.

Senators Warren, Blumenthal, and Carper also raise concerns that the personal financial interests of individuals advising President Trump may be affecting White House COVID-19 decision making, in particular with regard to the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine. Senior government officials and well-connected, non-government donors who are--or may be--advising President Trump on COVID-19 appear to have financial interests in hydroxychloroquine and the FDA's decision to issue an Emergency Use Authorization of the drug. For instance, Fisher Asset Management head Ken Fisher, who has donated to Trump, is one of the largest shareholders in a company that manufactures the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine. Additionally, Chirag Patel, a member of one of Mr. Trump's golf clubs who has golfed with the President at least twice, is the co-founder of a generic pharmaceutical company that is "gearing up" to produce the drug.

"These potential conflicts raise obvious questions regarding whether the actions of White House and other Trump Administration officials during the COVID-19 pandemic are consistent with federal criminal conflict of interest law, which prohibits a Government employee from 'participating personally and substantially, on behalf of the Federal Government, in any particular matter in which he or she has a financial interest,'" the senators wrote.

The senators requested responses to their questions no later than April 29, 2020. 

Senator Warren's letter is the latest in a series of inquiries raising conflict of interest concerns to bring accountability and transparency to the Trump Administration's response to the pandemic, including a letter to Deutsche Bank about the Trump Organization's reported request for financial assistance amid the COVID-19 crisis, raising concerns that the bank might be giving the President's family business special treatment. In August 2018, Senator Warren introduced the most sweeping ethics and anti-corruption legislation since Watergate, the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, which would require all White House staff to and advisors to comply with federal conflicts of interest rules, require senior government officials and White House staff like Kushner to fully divest from large companies and commercial real estate, and require the President to place conflicted assets, including businesses and commercial real estate, into a blind trust to be sold off.