A Kennedy who worked on Jared Kushner’s COVID-19 task force said he was asked to distort a coronavirus prediction to make the outbreak seem less bad
- A member of the Kennedy dynasty who joined Jared Kushner’s coronavirus task has spoken out about his time there.
- Max Kennedy Jr, a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, said he was asked to falsify a model to downplay predicted deaths and cast doubt on other, more dire, forecasts.
- Kennedy said he joined the team, intended to get PPE for the US, expecting it to be apolitical. He said it was the opposite.
- He acted as a whistleblower to Congress: “I just couldn’t sleep. I was so distressed and disturbed by what I’d seen.”
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Despite his political differences with its boss, a member of the Kennedy dynasty joined Jared Kushner’s coronavirus task force as the pandemic began to ravage the US.
However, Max Kennedy Jr. said his hopes for Kushner’s team to rise above partisanship to do good were swiftly dashed, and that at one point he was asked to distort a model of the COVID-19 pandemic to downplay its expected impact.
Kennedy, a 26-year-old grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, described his experience to The New Yorker.
“I was torn, to some extent,” Kennedy, a Democrat, said. “But it was such an unprecedented time. It didn’t seem political–it seemed larger than the Administration.”
Kennedy said he was so taken aback by what he saw that he decided to act as an anonymous whistleblower to Congress in April. In his New Yorker interview, Kennedy confirmed that it was him.
After leaving the team, Kennedy instead began work for the Democrats in their 2020 presidential campaign.
He alleged that the coronavirus team’s volunteers had no relevant experience and were told to prioritize allies of President Donald Trump.
Describing one moment of political interference, Kennedy said he was asked to create a rival model of how many the virus could kill, on the grounds that other predictions by experts were “too severe.”
Kennedy said his instructions were to make a model predicting a high of 100,000 deaths in the US. Around 200,000 Americans have now died from the virus.
Kennedy said that he was asked to do this by Brad Smith, one of the task force directors. A spokesman for Smith told The New Yorker that Smith did not recall the conversation.
Kennedy said that he told Smith that he declined to create the model, saying “I don’t know the first thing about disease modelling.”
Kennedy also said that he believes the Trump administration decided to rely on volunteers so that it could bypass its own experts and hence be able to “control the narrative.”
He said the team was small and ill-qualified for the task at hand.
“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.”
He claimed that most volunteers were in their 20s with backgrounds in finance.
He also said that the volunteers used personal laptops and private e-mail accounts when trying to find medical supplies.
He also said that volunteers were told to prioritize requests that came from Trump allies.
He highlighted Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who he said was “particularly aggressive” and demanded masks be sent to a certain hospital.
He said he refused when asked to draft a justification for the team being asked to direct millions of dollars of supplies to just five preselected distributors.
Kusher’s program was largely ended in May, though the US outbreak was continuing and states and hospitals were still seeing shortages.
Business Insider has contacted a Kushner representative for comment.
Kennedy broke a non-disclosure agreement that he had signed in order to alert Congress.
He told The New Yorker why he did so: “I just couldn’t sleep. I was so distressed and disturbed by what I’d seen.”
He described the program as “like a family office meets organized crime, melded with ‘Lord of the Flies.’ It was a government of chaos.”