American Consequences - May 2020

In the end, the VA ended up with precisely zero additional N95 masks from its deal with Stewart. On the upside, the VA paid no money. On the upside, the VA paid no money to FGE, Noel said. As of Wednesday, more than 2,200 VA employees had tested positive for COVID-19. © ProPublica activities with other vendors,” Noel said. In the end, the VA ended up with precisely zero additional N95 masks from its deal with Stewart. million respirators are being produced by 3M under the Defense Production Act over the next few months, “some of which are being provided to the VA.” In the meantime, the VA was hiring contractors to scour for additional masks. “To meet the remainder of its N95 respirator needs, VA conducts additional acquisition

he would not need our services to secure the masks,” King said through a spokesperson. “There have been no further conversations between Mr. Stewart and me. No agreement was ever made, no contract was ever executed, and no money was ever exchanged.” Stewart believes there were never any masks in LA or Atlanta. “Every time you get ready to do the due diligence or whatever else – you ask to see the proof of life – people go: ‘Oh, well we don’t have that. We have this kind. Or we can’t do that until this week or this date.’ Stuff just never materializes. It’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors and ghosts.” Stewart, to the end, maintained he would find a way to get masks to the VA. He followed up with the VA, offering a contract to get on a production line directly from 3M, at a cheaper cost, just $3.77 a mask. But the VA terminated the deal, after I inquired with the agency and a spokesperson for Pence’s task force. The agency didn’t tell Stewart directly, though he said he was made aware of the IG investigation. “The story is that we started out trying to do the best thing for the country,” Stewart said. “I failed in that, ultimately.” Back in DC, I asked a VA spokesperson why any of this, the FGE contract and intermediaries, was even necessary. Couldn’t the VA just buy masks directly? The agency is waiting, along with much of the federal government, on FEMA, said spokeswoman Christina Noel. More than 166

Derek Willis and Lydia DePillis contributed reporting.

American Consequences


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