WASHINGTON — Former president Donald Trump knowingly put at risk the lives of Gold Star families, wealthy donors at a Minnesota fundraiser, then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden, White House staff, the crews of Air Force One, White House reporters, and others, according to a new book from his former chief of staff.
Trump finally admitted he had contracted COVID-19 just after midnight on Oct. 2, barely 24 hours following a campaign rally in Minnesota where he looked peaked and cut short his typically 90 minutes of rambling remarks to just 45.
That, though, was actually almost six days after Sept. 26, when he had originally tested positive, according to former chief of staff Mark Meadows in his new memoir, as reported by the Guardian.
In those intervening days, Trump held a reception for families of fallen service members, hosted a gathering of business leaders at the White House, attended a presidential debate with Biden, visited reporters in the press section of Air Force 1, and interacted with multiple flight crews on both Marine helicopters and Air Force planes.
“The whole episode demonstrates a total disregard for public health and the well-being of others,” said Alyssa Farah Griffin, Trump’s former communications director who left the White House when Trump would not stop lying about the 2020 election results.
Farah Griffin added that she did not know about the positive test. “It’s hard to believe anyone involved thought it was OK.”
Meadows wrote that a second test conducted later on Sept. 26 showed a negative result — and that Trump and his staff chose to believe it was correct and the previous one false, rather than vice-versa, even though neither test was considered completely reliable.
Trump, a frequent liar who told many thousands of falsehoods during his presidency, claimed on Wednesday that Meadows’ assertions in his book were “fake news.”
His post-presidential staff did not respond to HuffPost queries, other than to refer to Trump’s statement.
“I had staff who were pregnant, a cancer survivor, and half the West Wing was 65 and over. It’s unfathomable the risk they put so many people at.”
After Trump’s recovery following treatment using synthetic antibodies — at the time, a hugely expensive, experimental intervention — Trump actually tried to suggest that the people he’d interacted with after his positive test had infected him.
“They come within an inch of my face sometimes, they want to hug me and they want to kiss me. And they do. And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up. I’m not doing it, but obviously, it’s a dangerous thing, I guess, if you go by the COVID thing,” he said about the families of fallen soldiers he’d met within a day of his positive test and five days prior to his hospitalization.
Fred Wellman, a retired Army helicopter pilot with 22 years of service who worked with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project last year, said Meadows’ timeline proves Trump’s character.
“To find out now that he went to the event knowing he had tested positive for COVID and refused to wear a mask or allow the guests to wear them shows the absolute depth of his moral depravity and lack of any respect for anyone or anything but how he looks,” Wellman said.
“I didn’t think I could think less of Donald Trump but to find out he knowingly and willfully exposed the children and elderly family members of our fallen service members to COVID for pictures just shows how much more deeply immoral and broken he is than we ever imagined,” he added. “He cares for no one but himself.”
Meadows claims in the book that he told his staff to be wary of Trump because of the positive test, but how far that information spread is unclear.
“I never heard anything like this,” said one former senior White House official who frequently interacted with Trump and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his current position in Republican politics.
Another, a supervisor to many staffers, was outraged. “I had staff who were pregnant, a cancer survivor, and half the West Wing was 65 and over,” the official said, also on condition of anonymity. “It’s unfathomable the risk they put so many people at. Including Chris Christie, who was dangerously ill.”
Christie, the former New Jersey governor, was helping Trump prep for his debates with Biden and contracted COVID not long afterward. He has said recently that the GOP needs to look beyond Trump, but that if Trump winds up the nominee in 2024, he was open to backing him again.
Meadows’ account further confirms Trump’s general disdain for coronavirus mitigation measures.
During his entire final year in office, even after catching and recovering from the disease himself, Trump downplayed the seriousness and lethality of the virus. In the first months of 2020, he claimed it was similar to the common cold, no worse than the flu, and even a hoax perpetrated by Democrats and the news media designed to hurt his re-election chances.
At one Rose Garden news conference, Trump demanded that chairs that had been spaced six feet apart, per health officials’ guidelines, be moved closer together. He opposed lockdowns and mocked people for wearing masks, frequently deriding Biden for wearing “the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.” And during his recovery at Walter Reed hospital, while he was still contagious, he insisted that the Secret Service drive him around in an SUV so he could wave to his fans.
T.J. Ducklo, the Biden campaign’s press secretary, said Trump and his campaign’s odd behavior around that Sept. 29 debate had set off alarm bells at the time. Trump arrived too late to take a COVID test, as required by the debate organizers, and then his family defied debate rules by refusing to wear masks during the event.
“We said often during the campaign that Donald Trump doesn’t care about anyone but himself. He knowingly, purposefully put millions of people in harm’s way by ignoring the COVID warning signs in early 2020. This is a shocking, horrifying, and disgusting reminder of just how dangerous and deceitful he truly is,” Ducklo said.
In January, Trump became the first president in 232 years of U.S. elections to refuse to turn over power peacefully to his successor.
He spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the Nov. 3, 2020, contest that he lost, starting his lies in the predawn hours of Nov. 4 that he had really won in a “landslide” and that his victory was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued through a long string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states.
Trump and some of his advisers even discussed using the military by invoking the Insurrection Act or declaring martial law to retain power despite having lost the election, including by seizing voting machines and ordering “re-votes” in states narrowly won by Biden.
But military leaders had earlier made it clear they would not involve themselves in the political process, so after the Electoral College finally voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump instead turned to a last-ditch scheme to pressure his own vice president into canceling the ballots of millions of voters in several states Biden won and declaring Trump the winner during the pro forma congressional certification of the election results on Jan. 6.
Trump asked his followers to come to Washington that day and then told the tens of thousands who showed up to march on the Capitol to intimidate Vice President Pence into doing what Trump wanted. “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules,” Trump said.
The mob of supporters he incited attempted to do his bidding by storming the building. They even chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after the vice president refused to comply with Trump’s demands.
A police officer died after being assaulted during the insurrection, and four others took their own lives in the days and weeks that followed. One of the rioters was fatally shot as she climbed through a broken window into an anteroom containing still-evacuating House members, and three others in the crowd died during the melee.
Though the House impeached Trump for inciting the attack, all but seven Senate Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, chose not to convict him ― thereby letting Trump continue his political career even as he faces several investigations into his post-election actions.
Trump and his allies are now engaged in a campaign to portray the rioter who was shot, Ashli Babbitt, as a martyr and the hundreds of others who have been arrested as victims of political persecution. Trump himself continues to suggest he will run for the 2024 GOP nomination and is using his Save America committee’s money to continue spreading the same falsehoods that culminated in the violence of Jan. 6.