After China reported the outbreak of a new coronavirus in December, U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the Trump administration in classified messages about the potentially devastating threat, The Washington Post reported Friday. Yet President Donald Trump largely ignored the warnings and delayed action that might have slowed the spread of the COVID-19 disease, according to the newspaper.
Intelligence reports warned that China initially appeared to be minimizing the danger of the virus but that the U.S. would be wise to prepare for a likely pandemic. Yet Trump shrugged off the intelligence and repeatedly assured the public that coronavirus was nothing to worry about.
Now, as cases of the illness and its death toll mount in the U.S., Trump is insisting he thought the problem was “urgent” right from the start and that he “felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” a U.S. official who had access to reports given to Congress and Trump officials told the Post.
“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 official said. “The system was blinking red.”
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley denied the account, insisting to the Post that 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 clear by Trump’s own public statements, however, that he did not believe coronavirus was a concern. He called criticisms of the White House response to the outbreak a “new hoax” from the Democrats. He said last month that the 15 domestic cases in the U.S. would go down “close to zero” and that the disease would vanish “like a miracle” or disappear by April when the weather turned warmer. (Check out the video above.)
As intelligence warnings increased in urgency, Trump administration officials repeatedly attempted to persuade Trump to focus on the issue — without success, according to the Post. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and former acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney encouraged Trump to engage in a response to the growing threat. But he was “dismissive,” the Post reported.
Concerns about a dearth of testing for coronavirus was raised in early February by Joe Grogan, the head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, accordng to the Post.
The Post attributed part of Trump’s reluctance to take the coronavirus threat seriously to his relationship with China’s President Xi Jingping, who Trump initially believed was providing accurate information, according to the newspaper. He has praised Xi’s efforts and “transparency.”
Now Trump is referring to coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and has suggested China did not alert the U.S. soon enough.
In the meantime, the outbreak has exploded across America, with more than 15,000 cases confirmed as of Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read the entire Washington Post story here.