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Governors Have to Go to Disturbing Lengths to Make Sure Donald Trump & Federal Agencies Can’t Steal Their Medical Supplies

Donald Trump holds up swabs as he speaks at the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House

When Donald Trump said that the states need to figure out their own testing issues, Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, did just that. He asked his wife, who was born in South Korea, to use her own connections to acquire half a million tests from her home country.

Trump seemed displeased by Hogan’s ingenuity. He said in a press briefing that Hogan just “needed to get a little knowledge” about what his options were. But Hogan, along with plenty of other governors, have expressed frustration with how the federal government has left them to fend for themselves. And even worse, have started getting in their way.

Hogan–who is, by the way, a Republican; just mentioning because Trump loves to frame as criticism as being entirely partisan–told the Washington Post Live that not only did he had to use his own means to get the tests, but he also had to take efforts to make sure federal agencies couldn’t seize them for their own use.

Hogan told the Post that they deliberately had the plane land at the airport in Baltimore instead of Dulles in Washington D.C. (for the first time ever for a Korean commercial plane!), that the plane was met by “a large contingent of Maryland National Guard and Maryland State Police,” and that the supplies are now being held in an “undisclosed location.”

Hogan explains how valuable these tests were, saying “This was an extraordinarily valuable payload.  It was like Fort Knox to us, because it’s gonna save the lives of thousands of our citizens.” He also noted that there was precedent to warrant his actions.

In Massachusetts, a shipment of medical supplies, including gowns and masks, was commandeered by FEMA. That’s the example Hogan mentioned but there are so many more.

Los Angeles hospitals have reported federal agencies showing up and taking supplies “without a word.” Florida saw a large order of thermometers disappear. FEMA took ventilators from Colorado and five million masks ordered for the Veteran’s Health Administration. That’s just a few examples.

So Hogan isn’t the only governor trying to hide the supplies Trump told him to acquire for his constituents. According to a report from the Chicago Sun-TimesIllinois’ governor kept the details of a shipment of masks and gloves from China secret so that Trump’s federal agencies couldn’t intercept them.

In Massachusetts, a local chief physician reported being questioned by the FBI over a shipment after his hospital’s staff worked “around the clock” to secure a shipment of PPE.

“Deals, some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money, have dissolved at the last minute when we were outbid or outmuscled, sometimes by the federal government. Then we got lucky, but getting the supplies wasn’t easy,” he wrote in a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine.

That work to secure the supplies even included hiding it in food delivery trucks like something–and I am not exaggerating here–straight out of an episode of The Sopranos.

Here’s just a snippet of the full story:

Having acquired the requisite funds — more than five times the amount we would normally pay for a similar shipment, but still less than what was being requested by other brokers — we set the plan in motion. Three members of the supply-chain team and a fit tester were flown to a small airport near an industrial warehouse in the mid-Atlantic region. I arrived by car to make the final call on whether to execute the deal. Two semi-trailer trucks, cleverly marked as food-service vehicles, met us at the warehouse. When fully loaded, the trucks would take two distinct routes back to Massachusetts to minimize the chances that their contents would be detained or redirected.

Hours before our planned departure, we were told to expect only a quarter of our original order. We went anyway, since we desperately needed any supplies we could get. Upon arrival, we were jubilant to see pallets of KN95 respirators and face masks being unloaded. We opened several boxes, examined their contents, and hoped that this random sample would be representative of the entire shipment. Before we could send the funds by wire transfer, two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived, showed their badges, and started questioning me. No, this shipment was not headed for resale or the black market. The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals. After receiving my assurances and hearing about our health system’s urgent needs, the agents let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded into the trucks. But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure. I remained nervous and worried on the long drive back, feelings that did not abate until midnight, when I received the call that the PPE shipment was secured at our warehouse.

I would call this ridiculous if it weren’t so devastating. Trump tells states that it’s not the federal government’s job to secure testing equipment and medical supplies for them, and that they have to do that on their own. Then when they do, they have to go to mafia-like levels of subterfuge to make sure that same federal government doesn’t hijack their supplies.

If anyone can explain how this is normal or okay, I’m all ears.

(image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.