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Member of Trump’s coronavirus task force reaches out to his Stanford business school Google group to discuss crisis

Derek Kan, left, appears with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders at a White House press briefing in 2018.
Derek Kan, left, appears with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders at a White House press briefing in 2018. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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A member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force emailed his Stanford business school Google group last week to see if members wanted to discuss “topics related to covid-19,” appearing to try to crowdsource thoughts on the crisis response while offering former classmates his insider perspective.

Derek Kan, the executive associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, told the group of 2012 graduates in a mass email that he was currently on the president’s task force and was “happy to share how we are approaching this” on a subsequent conference call. The episode appears to be the second time someone with a White House tie has turned to the cyber masses for input on the covid-19 outbreak, drawing criticism over the haphazard nature of the administration’s response.

“I think there are a range of topics to discuss from what are the government and companies doing and what should they be doing, how are markets responding, and a host of others,” Kan wrote from a nongovernment email account. “If folks are interested in a conference call, please let me know and also flag what topic or topics you would find interesting to discuss.”

While some in the group welcomed the message, others noted Kan might be better off seeking input elsewhere. Trump has faced widespread criticism for providing assessments that seem to contradict those of government health officials and having to clarify even his own public directives. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an adviser with no infectious disease experience, has tried to take a large behind-the-scenes role in the White House’s response.

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“We are not alumni of a public health school. Business school alums are not the appropriate people to consult during a public health emergency,” wrote one member of the group, drawing approval from a few others.

“The federal government response to date has been shockingly inept and outright misleading,” he continued, linking to a New York Times article about Trump’s false claims on the outbreak. “Re-hire the actual experts and then do what they say.”

That member of the group said Kan later texted him and — after a Washington Post reporter began making inquiries — called to explain “the intent of his email was checking in with his friends and former classmates about what’s going on in their lives, how are they dealing with COVID personally, how are they dealing with it professionally — not asking for policy input, and certainly not asking for health policy input.”

The group member requested anonymity to protect his privacy. The Washington Post is not naming him or others in the group who are not public officials to protect their privacy. Hundreds of people are part of the group.

Chase Jennings, a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget, said, “During a time when the government is working on all cylinders to protect the American people, the media is making up false narratives and peddling blatant lies. It’s obvious from the email that Derek was not soliciting information.”

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Last week, Kurt Kloss told a Facebook group of emergency room doctors, “I have direct channel to person now in charge at White House and have been asked for recommendations.” Kloss, an emergency room doctor, is the father of Kushner’s sister-in-law, supermodel Karlie Kloss. The solicitation was first reported by The Spectator.

Many on the Stanford business school group thanked Kan for reaching out, and some responded with serious suggestions. One woman wrote that she did not believe Kan was “trying to crowdsource policy ideas from business school alums.”

“He is suggesting a call for those of us who want to share and hear about how our peers are thinking about this issue, to help us do our ‘business school alum’ jobs better,” the woman wrote. “Whether or not we agree with the current federal government approach, there is value in learning from each other as we try to lead organizations in challenging times.”

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Another member suggested the White House appoint Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a panel of health and economic development experts and give them the authority and budget “to implement the emergency response.” He also advocated ignoring markets because “protecting the wealth of bankers and high income individuals doesn’t save lives.”

If that doesn’t happen, “then I’d suggest you resign unless you want to go down in history as a member of one of the worst responses to a healthcare catastrophe in the world,” the man wrote.