Senators seek probe into Trump administration's 'Project Airbridge' medical supply deliveries

Three Democratic senators are calling for an investigation into "Project Airbridge," the Trump administration's public-private arrangement with six of the country's largest medical supply companies to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) from overseas to the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCancel culture comes for the moderates Biden expands on Obama ethics pledge Student loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers MORE (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCapitol insurrection fallout: A PATRIOT Act 2.0? Schumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Student loan forgiveness would be windfall for dentists, doctors and lawyers MORE (D-N.Y.) said the initiative has lacked critical oversight and has misspent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.  

"Project Air Bridge - like the broader Trump Administration response to coronavirus - has been marked by delays, incompetence, confusion, and secrecy involving multiple Federal agencies and actors," the senators wrote to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee in a letter released Tuesday requesting that the panel initiate an investigation.

"Taxpayers have shelled out tens of millions of dollars on this secretive project and they deserve to know whether it actually helped get critical supplies to the areas most in need," the Democrats wrote.

Project Airbridge was led by President TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerJilani: China 'sending clear message' to Biden officials with sanctions that opposition could lead to 'future pay cut' Would Trump have gotten away with a self-pardon? History will never know Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon MORE, and was touted by the administration as a historic and successful effort to ease critical shortages of PPE during the height of the pandemic.    

Under the arrangement, the federal government paid to fly the supplies to the U.S., so long as the companies agreed to sell at least 50 percent of the supplies to hot spots designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The companies were allowed to sell the rest to anyone they wanted, at taxpayer expense.

The effort came under intense scrutiny from federal and state lawmakers who demanded answers from the administration about how the supplies were being distributed, and whether the White House was making distribution decisions based on politics rather than public health. Critics have seized on Kushner's role as well.

The administration wound down the effort last month after spending $91 million. But the impact on the U.S. pandemic response is unknown, as the White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the companies involved have declined to disclose details about which supplies have been delivered and where.

The senators opened their own investigation in April, but the letter released Tuesday said they still lacked insight into key aspects of Project Airbridge, including the availability of supplies and their pricing.

The price of PPE shipped as a result of the program was supposed to be kept "reasonable," but in response to the senators' initial letters, the distributors said they were not aware of any effort by the Trump administration to track the pricing of PPE.

“It is not clear if the project was effective or cost-efficient, or if other alternatives — such as the early invocation and use of the Defense Production Act to produce medical supplies — would have better alleviated the PPE shortage, saved money, and saved lives,” the senators wrote.