Tuesday may have ended on a very different note than Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt intended as he moves closer to relaxing COVID-19 social distancing guidelines around the state Friday.
Late in the day, news reports revealed that Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter had requested State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd to carry out an “investigative audit” on Stitt’s and the Oklahoma State Health Department’s spending as they responded to the COVID-19 crisis.
This comes after the Governor has been leading efforts that spent millions in state funds to acquire PPE, ventilators, and drugs to respond to the COVID-19 threat in Oklahoma.
In a letter (see below) to Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Gary Cox, Hunter warns Cox to comply with the investigation.
“Refusal of access to records, obstruction of access to records, refusal to search for required information or any other effort to hinder the examination of the State Auditor Inspector is prohibited,” Hunter’s letter read.
The letter instructs Cox to preserve written and electronic records.
“The neglectful or willful destruction of evidence is sanctionable,” read the letter.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt found himself and other members of his administration answering questions Tuesday about spending $2 million on a single drug with no known effect on COVID-19.
Free Press and then other outlets asked Stitt about an Associated Press story exposing the state’s purchase of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug suggested by President Donald Trump as a possible cure for COVID-19, the disease that has reached pandemic proportions worldwide.
A series of controlled tests by the Veterans Administration has found that the drug may cause unnecessary deaths and no cure for patients suffering from COVID-19.
“Yeah, you got to understand that my goal is as the governor is to protect the health and lives of Oklahoma,” Stitt responded when first asked about the expenditure.
Stitt added that in early March, hydroxychloroquine was “shown to be a treatment.”
In March during White House news conferences, President Donald Trump promoted using the drug when there was no consensus in the medical or medical research community that the malaria drug would be effective against the new coronavirus.
“In early March, I set up my Governor’s Solution Task Force, and I brought in a czar for PPE, Gino DeMarco, and he’s done a fantastic job. And I told him to go out and procure gowns, gloves, N95 Masks and build up the Strategic National Stockpile,” Stitt continued in response to questions in the news conference.
Stitt said, “I was being proactive and to try to protect Oklahomans.”
Stitt then called on his appointed Secretary of Health Jerome Loughridge, just appointed in 2019.
Among other things, Loughridge cited “battling the fog of war” for their decision to acquire the drug along with some statements by a physician at Integris Medical Center.
He said that it is “useful” to have the drug since it is used for lupus, malaria and other diseases.
Loughridge concluded by saying the drug has “proved useful for COVID-19.”
Oklahoma’s independent watchdogs
Unlike the Federal government where the President appoints his Attorney General and can fire inspectors general, which Trump has done, Oklahoma government allows the governor far less power.
The Oklahoma Attorney General and the Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector are directly elected by the people of Oklahoma in separate statewide votes.
That reality of the Oklahoma Constitution yields a considerable amount of independence to the two watchdogs who are ultimately accountable to the voters rather than a particular gubernatorial administration.
That independence was revealed once again Tuesday.
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