Jared Kushner's Coronavirus Team Members Are Using Personal Email Addresses to Coordinate Policy: Report

Senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner made a rare on-camera appearance on Thursday to brief reporters about the administration's progress in fighting coronavirus, a battle in which he has made himself a key figure to the chagrin of establishment officials, according to a new report by The New York Times.

Kushner — President Donald Trump's son-in-law who has amassed a large portfolio of high profile responsibilities over the past three years — has emerged as a leading figure in the White House's COVID-19 strategy, assisted by a team of private sector associates with limited government experience.

The Times spoke with a government official who described Kushner's team — reportedly dubbed the "Slim Suit Crowd" for their dress sense — as being like a "frat party" that arrived by U.F.O. and overtook the federal response to the pandemic.

Kushner and his team supposedly took a more relaxed approach than established officials, the Times reported, using personal email accounts to discuss policy matters and the FreeConferenceCall.com website to set up important meetings.

Speaking Thursday, Kushner said he had been instructed by the president to "break down every barrier needed to make sure that teams can succeed." He added, "The president also wanted us to make sure that we think outside the box, make sure we're finding all the best thinkers in the country, making sure we're getting all the best ideas."

From the start of Trump's presidency, Kushner has been an influential figure within the administration, though has largely kept out of the limelight. His expansive purview includes criminal justice reform — for which his work was lauded on both sides of the aisle — and brokering a Middle East peace deal, which has been markedly less successful.

The Times noted that Kushner's coronavirus "impact team" has focused on improving testing and securing needed medical supplies — like an airlift of 22 flights from China carrying surgircal gloves, masks, gowns, and other materials.

The White House has been criticized for its slow, confused, and divisive response to the crisis, which the president and his allies initially tried to downplay. But administration officials told the Times that Kushner's arrival on the scene in mid-March seems to have caused even more dysfunction.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reportedly been receiving surprise instructions from the White House such as an order to send medical equipment to governors of states that had not filed formal requests. Rather, those governors had managed to speak with Trump directly on the phone and got his commitment to send the material.

This happened with both Illinois and New Jersey, raising concerns within FEMA that the worst affected states would be left with inadequate material. The Times said that FEMA officials had to call state emergency managers and ask them to file formal requests for material that had already been promised by the White House.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, told the Times there is "some kind of communications failure between FEMA and the White House."

Thompson explained, "FEMA was brought into the response to provide logistics support and the White House should let them do their work. There is no reason for Jared or any other inexperienced person to be getting in the way of that."

Kushner told the Times that his team has been able "get people very quick answers" working through the White House, from which you can make progress "a lot faster." The 39 year old argued, "When you try to work around an existing government structure, it rarely works... You have to take the machinery that exists and empower it rather than recreate it."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment on the report.

Jared Kushner, White HOuse, coronavirus, response, team
Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner speaks during the daily briefing on the COVID-19 coronavirus in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on April 2, 2020, in Washington, D.C. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty