Max Kennedy, Jr., who’s the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, joined the Jared Kushner-led White House task force for responding to the Coronavirus back in March. He promptly found a staggering level of inept mismanagement, and the following month, he sent an anonymous whistleblower complaint outlining his concerns to the House Oversight Committee, hoping to alert observers to what was going on. He has now spoken publicly about the situation, describing the White House’s Coronavirus response as “like a family office meets organized crime, melded with Lord of the Flies.” This incompetence helped pave the way for the deaths of some 200,000 Americans.
Kennedy explains that after he followed through on a suggestion from a friend to join a volunteer-staffed task force that Kushner was forming at the White House to respond to the then-burgeoning crisis, he “was so distressed and disturbed” by what he found. Kennedy explains that the group that he was a part of included, on his first day, about a dozen total volunteers who had no relevant government or medical supply procurement experience, and this group, he says, constituted some of the front lines of the White House’s response to the crisis.
A group of inexperienced volunteers — who political appointees at the White House tried to pressure into completing political aims — were among those responsible for virus response efforts at the highest level. Kennedy explains:
‘We were the team. We were the entire frontline team for the federal government… It was the number of people who show up to an after-school event, not to run the greatest crisis in a hundred years. It was such a mismatch of personnel. It was one of the largest mobilization problems ever. It was so unbelievably colossal and gargantuan. The fact that they didn’t want to get any more people was so upsetting.’
Relying on a group of inexperienced volunteers for frontline work is, of course, a staggering failure of leadership on the part of the Trump administration. Once, Kennedy says, political appointee Brad Smith tried to get him to concoct an estimate for eventual total U.S. deaths that topped out at around 100,000, claiming that the models from actual experts were “too severe.” Kennedy had no experience that would prepare him for that task, and he refused to complete the directive.
The responsibilities of the task force were supposed to hinge on tasks like assisting with the procurement of personal protective equipment for health workers and other vulnerable groups around the country. In the end, equipment shortages plagued the early — and later! — stages of the virus response.
According to Kennedy, political appointees in the administration indicated to him that Trump had “personally [come] up with the strategy of blaming the states.” He was, it seems, more concerned with protecting his public image than he was with protecting the lives of the Americans who he had been elected to lead. Now, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died, some of whose lives might have been saved if a more effective virus response had been waged.