Trump administration used virus relief money to buy jet parts and military uniforms


Congress originally approved the money to shore up medical supplies, including face masks and testing swabs.

The Trump administration reportedly siphoned hundreds of millions intended for pandemic medical supplies to pay for unrelated defense spending.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Defense Department took most of a $1 billion fund appropriated by Congress in March to help "prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus" and repurposed it. The bulk of the money went to defense contractors and bought items unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as parts for jet engines and military formalwear.

Bill Greenwalt, a former George W. Bush administration official, told the Post that the money "became an opportunity for the Department to take what is almost a windfall and use it to try and fill what are some very critical industrial base needs" that are "only tangentially related to COVID."

This included $22 million to Rolls-Royce for Naval shipbuilding, $75 million to GE Aviation, and $2 million to the American Woolen Company for Army dress uniforms.

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesperson claimed the money had been used appropriately and consistent with Congressional intent, and said the Washington Post "left out" context "leading some to misconstrue the expenditures."

But this would not be the first time the administration has essentially stolen money appropriated by Congress for its pet projects.

Last year, Donald Trump declared a "national emergency" and then took billions of taxpayer dollars intended for military families to pay for his proposed wall along the nation's southern border.

Trump had previously promised repeatedly that the wall would be entirely funded by Mexico. While bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to terminate the so-called emergency, Trump vetoed their resolution.

Due in large part to Trump's botched response to the coronavirus, more than 6.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and about 200,000 have died.

From early on, Trump dismissed Congressional efforts to provide funding to curb the virus' spread as unnecessary. In February, his administration asked Congress for just $2.5 billion total to protect the nation from the pandemic. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the House Appropriations chair, called the request "woefully insufficient to protect Americans from the deadly coronavirus outbreak." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it "indicative of [Trump's] towering incompetence."

Trump tweeted on Feb. 25: "Cryin' Chuck Schumer is complaining, for publicity purposes only, that I should be asking for more money than $2.5 Billion to prepare for Coronavirus. If I asked for more he would say it is too much."

Instead, Congress passed an $8.3 billion appropriation, which Trump signed in March. He said at the time, "I asked for $2.5 and I got $8.3, and I'll take it," adding. "We're doing well, but it's an unforeseen problem."

Though Congress subsequently passed trillions more for pandemic relief and economic stabilization, the most basic needs are still not being met by the Trump administration.

The Post reported on Monday the emergency responders are still facing shortages of N95 respirator masks, one of the most vital pieces of personal protective equipment to protect them from the virus. Due to the shortage, the masks are unavailable for other essential workers around the country.

The Trump administration did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story. But Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, told the Post "We are thankful the Congress provided authorities and resources that enabled the [Trump administration] to invest in domestic production of critical medical resources and protect key defense capabilities from the consequences of COVID. We need to always remember that economic security and national security are very tightly interrelated and our industrial base is really the nexus of the two."

Updated to include a response from the Pentagon.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.