Mask and PPE Patronage

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 25: (AFP OUT) Senior Advisor to US President Trump, Jared Kushner, attends an event where US President Donald J. Trump (unseen) signed an order recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli territory in... WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 25: (AFP OUT) Senior Advisor to US President Trump, Jared Kushner, attends an event where US President Donald J. Trump (unseen) signed an order recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli territory in the presence of Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (unseen), in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump signed an order recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli territory.Netanyahu is cutting short his visit to Washington due to a rocket attack in central Israel that had injured seven people. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
April 24, 2020 3:09 p.m.

If you haven’t had a chance I hope you’ll take a moment to read Josh Kovensky’s exclusive on federal government confiscations of masks and other PPE during the COVID19 Crisis. It’s the kind of piece we’re very proud to publish and the kind of weeks’ long effort your memberships and contributions to the TPM Journalism Fund make possible. Explicit partisan politics or political motivation did not turn out to be an issue in that particular story. But this story from NBCNews brings the broader story into focus. At every level, the White House is using access to PPE, medical supplies and testing as patronage. Friends get help; enemies can talk to the hand.

This applies both to government contracts and access to materials. And the key access appears to be to presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner.

What’s notable is that it doesn’t seem narrowly partisan. It’s not just Republicans get stuff and Democrats don’t. The White House appears to be using masks and other goods as a lure to bring people into the White House fold, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats. Sometimes this may mean explicit political support, if it’s recipients who are in a position to provide it. In other cases, it’s in return for praise. Or simply silence.

One thing to note is that Governors Cuomo and Newsom now seldom criticize President Trump or the federal response. Some of that may be a good faith acknowledgement of assistance. But the totality of evidence points clearly to the conclusion that being candid about the federal government’s efforts directly interferes with getting the goods they need to protect lives in their states.

It also sheds light on an assumption we had going into the PPE confiscation reporting that was amply confirmed by our reporting of the piece. The big reason we’ve still heard so few details about these confiscations is that no one involved has any incentive to talk. Quite the contrary. As we’ve seen in a number of cases, intended recipients may be pissed that their goods were confiscated. But mainly they just want them back. After all, it’s literally about life and death. Going public is the best way never to see the shipment again and make it much harder to secure any new shipments. The buyers – whether states or hospitals – don’t want to upset the administration and the same applies to the various vendors distributors. There is what amounts to a conspiracy of silence among the victims. To a degree that is always the case: people in power don’t like to be criticized. That’s why we have whistleblower and other laws. But it’s particularly the case with an administration that has quite intentionally cultivated a reputation for retaliating against anyone who talks or gets out of line.

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