Dems Press Pompeo For Info On Russian Ventilator Purchase

By Alyssa Aquino
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Law360 (May 28, 2020, 3:43 PM EDT) -- Top House Democrats were alarmed Thursday by the possibility that the Trump administration skirted a sanctions order against a Russian company to obtain faulty ventilators from Moscow, demanding in a letter that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo turn over information on the purchase.

Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y.; Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y.; and Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., the chairs of committees overseeing foreign and fiscal policy, pumped Pompeo for information on President Donald Trump's decision to purchase ventilators that they say are not only unsafe for American use, but are manufactured by a unit of a company under sanctions.

"These misguided decisions waste millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer dollars, undermine our foreign policy and national security interests, and impair our nation's ability to combat the coronavirus crisis," the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Pompeo.

According to the U.S. State Department, a shipment of medical supplies was flown into the U.S. from Russia on April 1, the letter said. The haul included personal protective equipment and a cache of ventilators, which the State Department said were purchased from Moscow following a March 30 phone call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The State Department was billed $660,000 for the supplies, according to records from the Federal Emergency Management Agency obtained by ABC News.

However, Radio Free Europe determined that some of the ventilators were produced by Ural Instrument Engineering Plant, a subsidiary of Concern Radio-Electronic Technologies, or KRET, a company that was hit with sanctions after Russian troops marched into Ukraine.

The U.S. Treasury Department swept KRET under the sanctions in July 2014, finding that American individuals doing business with the company would undermine the U.S.' national security and foreign policy interests.

Further reports from ABC News show that the ventilators were the same model as those that caused fires in early May that led to the deaths of six coronavirus patients. Additionally, the ventilators couldn't even be immediately deployed in the U.S. due to voltage issues, the representatives said.

The lawmakers called on Pompeo to hand over details on KRET's ownership interests in Ural Instrument Engineering Plant, department records and communications related to the shipments and information on the March 30 phone call between Trump and Putin.

The Democrats want the documents by June 10.

Representatives for the State and Treasury departments and FEMA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Thursday letter comes one week after the same lawmakers blasted Trump for sending $5.6 million worth of ventilators and related medical equipment to Russia.

The U.S. has suffered more coronavirus-related deaths than the next several highest countries combined and risks further casualties if it can't provide enough life-saving ventilators to virus patients in critical condition, the Democrats said.

"No matter which estimate we use, there are not enough ventilators for patients … in the upcoming months," the representatives stressed, citing an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The U.S. must be engaged in the global response to the virus pandemic, the lawmakers said, "But we must first ensure that cities and hospitals across the United States can address their own ventilator shortages."

--Editing by Abbie Sarfo.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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