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Chairs Ask Inspectors General to Probe Ventilator Shipments to and from Russia

Washington, D.C. (Oct. 21, 2020)— Today, Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot E. Engel, Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Chairman James E. Clyburn, and Oversight and Reform’s National Security Subcommittee Chairman Stephen F. Lynch sent a letter to State Department Acting Inspector General Matthew Klimow and Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari requesting an independent investigation into the shipment of ventilators to and from the Russian Federation during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

“Specifically, we ask you to consider whether the Trump Administration’s decision to accept a shipment of Russian-produced ventilators on April 1, 2020, may have violated U.S. sanctions law or guidance, how the shipment of U.S.-manufactured ventilators to Russia in May furthered U.S. foreign policy objectives, and to what extent, if any, the arrangement may have been inappropriately influenced by President Donald Trump or other White House officials,” wrote the Chairs.

On April 1, 2020, the State Department announced that “As a follow-up to the March 30 phone call between President Trump and President Putin, the United States has agreed to purchase needed medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protection equipment, from Russia.”  According to records from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the “State Department received a final invoice from the Government of Russia for $659,283.”  The Russian ventilators were reportedly “not immediately useable because of voltage-related issues.”  Earlier this week, a FEMA spokesperson confirmed that the “donated ventilators in question were disposed of.”  

On May 18, 2020, the Trump Administration submitted a notification to Congress stating that it planned to send “ventilators and related commodities and consumables” to Russia that would cost American taxpayers $5.6 million.

On May 22, 2020 and again on May 28, 2020, the Chairs, along with Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, requested information from the White House and the Department of State, respectively, about the donation and import of ventilators to and from the Russian Federation.  To date, the White House has not provided a response.

On September 15, 2020, the State Department wrote and explained, in part:

“As you noted in your letter, the final invoice amount was $659,283.  FEMA requested the assistance of the Department of State in transmitting payment to the Russian authorities for the shipment.  The Russian Embassy subsequently informed the State Department that payment for the April 1 shipment was no longer expected in light of the delivery of U.S.-made ventilators to Russia.  The Administration has not transferred and will not transfer any funds to the Russian Federation or companies for the April 1 shipment.”

This conflicts with the State Department’s April 1, 2020, statement that the United States had agreed to “purchase needed medical supplies, including ventilators and personal protection equipment, from Russia,” and does not account for why Russian did not seek payment from the United States in the weeks leading up to the shipment of ventilators to Russia in May.

“It makes little sense for the United States to have sent 200 ventilators to Russia at a cost of $5.6 million to American taxpayers, while less than two months earlier, FEMA accepted 45 Russian ventilators that were electrically incompatible and unsafe for use in the United States,” the Chairs wrote.  “The decision to accept ventilators from a subsidiary of a sanctioned Russian entity—which provided President Vladimir Putin with a propaganda victory as Russia sought to portray itself as a world leader in the global coronavirus response—potentially undermined U.S. national security interests and raises even more questions about why the Department of State previously claimed to have purchased these ventilators but now acknowledges it did not.” 

Click here to read today’s letter.

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