Gov. Janet Mills has raised concerns about the potential for “unrest” during President Trump’s visit to Maine this week to tour one of the only factories producing medical swabs for coronavirus testing.

Mills first expressed her misgivings to the president during a conference call Monday morning in which he accused governors of being “weak” in their handling of protests sparked by the death of a black man in police custody in Minneapolis. During the call, Trump urged governors to arrest and prosecute those involved in the sometimes-violent protests, repeatedly saying governors needed to “dominate” the protesters.

“Both the tone and the substance of the president’s comments were troubling,” Mills told reporters Monday evening during a news conference outside the governor’s mansion in Augusta.

A White House official said Monday that Trump plans to visit the Piscataquis County town of Guilford to tour the Puritan Medical Products factory, which is one of only two global producers of swabs used to test patients for the coronavirus.

“The president is expected to champion the administration’s success in harnessing and bolstering American manufacturing capabilities to create American-made medical supplies and medicine to respond to COVID-19,” the official said.

Puritan received $75.5 million to double its production from 20 million to 40 million swabs in order to help address shortages of the supplies needed to test patients for COVID-19. The small town of Guilford is also located in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which Trump won in 2016 and his supporters hope to repeat in November.

In the call with Trump and other governors, Mills, a Democrat, voiced concerns about security if Trump came to Maine. Her concern comes at a time when protesters have taken to the streets in cities in Maine and around the nation in the days since video emerged of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the back of a black man’s neck for nine minutes while he was handcuffed and face down on the ground. George Floyd died and the officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with murder.

 

President Trump’s exchange with Maine Gov. Janet Mills begins at minute 29:00 of his June 1 telephone call with governors in which he calls them “weak,” and urged them to use force against unruly protests. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

“I’m very concerned that your presence may cause security problems for our state,” Mills said in the call, an audio recording of which was shared on You Tube by PBS Newshour. “We don’t have them yet, so I’m concerned about that.”

Trump responded to Mills by saying, “We’ll look into that.”

“We have a tremendous crowd of people showing up as you know,” Trump said. “And I think most of them are very favorable. They like their president. But we’ll talk to you about that, certainly.”

Mills was more pointed in her criticism of the president’s tone and messaging later Monday, however, when addressing the media outside the Blaine House. Mills said the country needed leadership “not more hatred and more division, not more animosity and more distrust.”

She then had a personal message for the president:

“I ask that when you arrive here, you rise above the language that I heard this morning,” Mills said. “I ask that you check the rhetoric at the door and abandon the divisive language that sows the seeds of distrust among our people. I ask that, instead, that you appeal to the best of all people and that you lead us with passion and courage and compassion during this difficult time.”

Trump later said Mills was not persuasive in her request that he stay away from Maine.

“She tried to talk me out of it,” Trump said.  “Now I think she probably talked me into it. She just doesn’t understand me very well. But that’s OK.”

Maine has largely avoided the violence and rioting that has taken place in other parts of the United States over the Floyd’s death.  In the call, Mills, a former longtime prosecutor and Maine Attorney General, also asked U.S. Attorney General William Barr to share with state authorities any “intelligence” they have on possible violent professional protesters coming to Maine.

“Somebody mentioned some intelligence regarding the source of the protests and the bad actors and professional instigators,” Mills said. “I would be very interested in knowing the intel so that we can prepare in advance for any insurgents or professional instigators.”

Mills said the state hasn’t seen that so far, then expressed her concern that Trump’s visit could invite that type of behavior.

“As far as intelligence,” Trump said to Mills. “We do have intelligence information and we will present it to the appropriate people. I would like to turn that around though. If you hear anything let us know. Report it to the attorney general.”

Mills said she would, but if there was a threat coming to the state of Maine, law enforcement officials here needed that information.

“We will be sharing intelligence with all our state and local partners, ” Barr said. He said Maine law enforcement officials would be provided the information.

Mills also asked Barr which federal statutes officials should rely on to arrest and prosecute protesters, as Barr had suggested earlier in the call.

Barr said there were several different federal offenses that protesters could be prosecuted for. He said crossing state lines in order to riot was a federal offense, “to incite, to participate in, to encourage, so forth.”

“Or anyone who uses any interstate facility, including telecommunications, vehicles, roads, whatever in connection with participating in an encouraging way,” Barr said. Protesters would also face federal charges for the use of destructive devices, like homemade weapons and conspiracy charges, he added.

In recent weeks, Trump has visited Michigan, Arizona and other states to tour factories producing supplies or equipment related to the coronavirus pandemic. The visits or their reaction to them have often taken on partisan tones, and the same is likely to happen in Maine.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat who is a vocal critic of the president, said Trump has failed to unite a divided country.

“Governor Mills has good reason to worry that President Trump’s vitriol could spark unrest in Maine,” Pingree said in a statement. “While the nation mourns the killing of George Floyd and the deaths of more than 106,000 Americans to COVID-19, he is using the bully pulpit to incite violence. Whether he’s calling peaceful protesters ‘thugs’, advocating for police to ‘shoot’ and ‘dominate’ American citizens, or demonizing lifesaving, science-based advice to prevent the spread of a deadly pandemic, President Trump’s inflammatory words have had deadly and divisive consequences.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who faces a tough reelection battle this November, doesn’t plan to join the president during his tour of the Puritan factory.

“I will be in Washington working on Friday,” Collins said in a statement. “I was fortunate to be able to visit Puritan Medical Products last month and am very proud of the employees’ work to ramp up production of medical swabs used to test for COVID-19.”

Under an executive order from Mills, out-of-state visitors to Maine are expected to quarantine for 14 days before interacting publicly in the state. It appears the president is not going to abide by the governor’s order, which is in effect current state law.

Trump last visited the state in 2016, when he made five different trips during his election campaign.

Guilford, in southern Piscataquis County in the north-central part of the state, has a population of about 1,500 people.

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