The United States intelligence community has been warning the president since January and February about the dire consequences that would occur when coronavirus reached America, but the president seemed determined to play down the threat, leaving the country largely unaware and unprepared.
According to the Washington Post, intelligence agencies sent reports to Trump tracking the virus spreading through China and stating that the Chinese government was being dishonest and trying to minimize how severe the outbreak actually was. One official told the Post that intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January.”
The official added, chillingly, “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it. The system was blinking red.”
But in January, the president was reassuring Americans. “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine,” he said on CNBC.
Even then-acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and head of the White House Domestic Policy Council Joe Grogan tried to get the president to act. Grogan warned that the coronavirus would cause significant disruptions to daily life and not taking it seriously could cost Trump the election. But, according to the officials who spoke with the Post, Trump was “dismissive” of early briefings “because he did not believe that the virus had spread widely throughout the United States.”
Unsurprisingly, the administration denied these accounts. Spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement: “President Trump has taken historic, aggressive measures to protect the health, wealth and safety of the American people — and did so, while the media and Democrats chose to only focus on the stupid politics of a sham illegitimate impeachment. It’s more than disgusting, despicable and disgraceful for cowardly unnamed sources to attempt to rewrite history — it’s a clear threat to this great country.”
Popular on Rolling Stone
But contrary to what the White House says, Trump only restricted travel to the U.S. from China — enacting one of his favorite solutions, a travel ban — and did little else. Even recently, Trump banned travelers from Europe. Meanwhile, local governments on the state, county, and city level have taken more extreme measures that will actually curb the spread of the virus, including implementing shelter in place orders in the states of California and New York and ordering the closure of non-essential businesses.
Even now, as he gives daily White House briefings on the response to coronavirus, Trump blatantly continues to contradict officials even as they are standing right next to him. Speaking yesterday about new potential prescription treatments for the virus, Trump insisted he had a “very good” feeling about the prospects while Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gave a much more pragmatic view. When a reporter asked about using a malaria drug or other existing drug to combat the virus, Fauci gave a strong rebuke: “No.”
But Trump said of a miracle drug, “Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see,” adding that he felt “good about it.” Trump has also oversold the prospect of a vaccine, which he says will happen “relatively soon,” but that public health officials, including Fauci, say is 12 to 18 months away.
Trump’s response to coronavirus has directly contradicted the president’s campaign promise that America was in a crisis that he “alone can fix.” He even bragged to campaign staff in 2016, according to the New York Times, that he would have done a better job helping New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I would have fixed that. I would have come up with a much better response,” the then-candidate said. Now, we know that statement for what it is: another broken campaign promise.