Top Trump adviser pursued his own COVID-19 medical supply deals, documents show

A top adviser to former President Trump pursued his own ad hoc strategy for procuring key medical supplies after the president and others in the administration ignored his warnings and failed to implement a national strategy in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new documents released Wednesday by House Democrats.

In a memo dated March 1, 2020, former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro warned Trump of the urgent need to “MOVE IN TRUMP TIME” to “STAY AHEAD OF VIRUS CURVE.”

The memo was among the latest tranche of documents released by Democrats on the select committee investigating the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“These documents provide further evidence that the Trump Administration failed to react quickly to the coronavirus pandemic in Spring 2020 despite urgent warnings, failed to implement a national strategy to alleviate critical supply shortages that were putting American lives at risk, and pursued a haphazard and ineffective approach to procurement in which senior White House officials steered contracts to particular companies without adequate diligence or competition,” Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the select committee’s chairman, wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

Clyburn wrote to Becerra and other top Biden administration officials on Wednesday, asking the agencies to release additional documents. Clyburn said the committee had been “obstructed” by the Trump administration.

According to the memo, Navarro said there was “not enough movement” on key actions and urged the administration to invest in drug ingredients, especially those that could not be manufactured in the U.S., as well as rapid, handheld coronavirus tests.

Navarro criticized the speed of the administration’s response and noted that he had been focusing on ensuring sufficient personal protective equipment and procuring accurate diagnostics ever since the first news of a viral outbreak in China.

“There is NO downside risk to taking swift actions as an insurance policy against what may be a very serious public health emergency. If the covid-19 crisis quickly recedes, the only thing we will have been guilty of is prudence,” Navarro wrote.

Navarro was rebuffed by Trump, who publicly said the U.S. should not be in the business of acquiring and sending supplies to states.

“The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk,” Trump said later that month.

But after being ignored, the documents from the committee show that Navarro and other White House officials pursued their own strategies, pushing federal agencies to issue noncompetitive contracts.

Navarro gave a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak to produce ingredients for generic drugs, a $354 million contract for pharmaceutical ingredients to a new company called Phlow and a $96 million sole-source contract to the AirBoss Defense Group (ADG) for powered respirators and filters.

“Please move this puppy in Trump time,” Navarro wrote to Phlow. “My head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved.” 

The contract was subsequently awarded without competition.

When communicating with an ADG executive, Navarro wrote “everything you requested is ok” and told the company to “trust your government and begin to execute” on the contract, even though one had not been negotiated or signed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the ADG the $96 million sole-source contract just six days later.

Updated at 9:45 a.m.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Equipment Government contracts Peter Navarro PPE Trump administration Xavier Becerra
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