More than a dozen Trump administration officials, current and former, described a clandestine relationship between Jared Kushner and the CEO of a Kremlin sovereign wealth fund.
Erin Banco, National Security Reporter
On a late afternoon in March, a large military aircraft bearing the Russian Federation insignia descended into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Its mission: to deliver personal protective equipment and ventilators to nearby hospitals scrambling to treat patients during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had pleaded for weeks with the federal government for additional resources, particularly ventilators, to treat the thousands of COVID-19 patients across the state. Yet news of the Russian delivery surprised those in the governor’s office working to obtain additional medical equipment. They’d thought the ventilator support would come from the U.S. stockpile or from an American company.
Officials in the U.S. State Department were surprised, too. Despite a department press release announcing the delivery, several senior officials working on the Russia portfolio in the department and elsewhere in the national security apparatus were unaware exactly how the 45 ventilators had ended up on American soil. Half of the shipment was paid for by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), one of the country’s sovereign wealth funds, which is under U.S. sanctions. (The sanctions do not prohibit all transactions between U.S. entities and the firm, but they have limited the fund’s interactions with American businesses.) And the fund’s CEO, Kirill Dmitriev, had been scrutinized by Congress and former special counsel Robert Mueller for his communications with Trump transition officials shortly after Moscow had meddled in the 2016 election.
For years, the Trump administration had attempted to find ways to cooperate with Russia on the world stage but largely failed in those efforts because Moscow has continued to engage in activity that threatens U.S. national security, from hacking operations to reportedly offering bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan. A public display of Russian supplies being offloaded caught some officials in the Trump administration off guard.
But there was a simple answer to the whodunit. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) told The Daily Beast it had assigned the State Department “to represent the U.S. in the transaction with the Government of Russia.” But it was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who helped facilitate the ventilator delivery, according to two senior administration officials. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Kushner headed “Project Airbridge”—the medical supply delivery program that worked to fast-track the delivery of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies by using federal funding to underwrite the cost of shipping. In an effort to supply New York City hospitals with the medical equipment they needed, Kushner looked in multiple places for the equipment and found a safe bet in Moscow, those officials said. While the State Department had been involved in the logistics of the onboarding and offloading, it was Kushner who helped strike the deal.
The ventilators turned out to be faulty and were cast aside by officials in New York and New Jersey, according to local officials who spoke with The Daily Beast. During that same time period, the city of Los Angeles was told by representatives of the federal government that it had lost a bid for N95 masks to a Russian entity, according to two people familiar with the matter. The L.A. officials were never told the Russian outfit’s name.
Kushner held the details of the New York shipment closely and accelerated the order by leaning on his personal relationship with Dmitriev, a confidant of President Vladimir Putin who’d been dispatched to make inroads with the inexperienced 2016 Trump transition team.
Dmitriev was one of the main participants in the infamous January 2017 Seychelles meeting with former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, in which the two discussed a roadmap for U.S.-Russia cooperation in the new administration. In the years since, Kushner and Dmitriev have communicated—often at a distance, and at times through intermediaries—about ways the U.S. and Russia could work together. The conversations have touched on everything from creating a joint business council to increase investment, to working on a Middle East peace deal, to helping lead negotiations on a recent OPEC deal, to delivering those medical supplies, according to multiple senior officials.