Throughout this star-crossed year, Donald Trump has routinely misled the country about the coronavirus. He stood on a debate stage Tuesday and mocked Joe Biden for wearing a mask. Now it has to be asked: Did Trump hope to cover up his own Covid-19 infection?It s a harsh question as the President received treatment in the Walter Reed military medical center. Yet it is begged by his own dubious track record of disclosure and the White House s characteristically murky handling of facts surrounding his illness.
In the first public briefing on Trump s condition Saturday, White House physician Dr. Sean Conley offered general assurances that the President is doing well. (His upbeat assessment was quickly disputed by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, sowing confusion about the President s condition.)
But despite his tortured efforts to avoid answering specific questions, which continued at a second briefing Sunday, Conley said just enough to provoke a controversy that would have been inconceivable at any other time and with any other President.Conley pointedly and without explanation refused to discuss when the President s last negative Covid test occurred. But his assertion on Saturday -- later walked back -- that Trump had begun treatment for the virus 72 hours earlier set off alarms.
That timetable would mean that Trump lied to a national TV audience late Thursday when he concealed that he had already had a positive test (The Wall Street Journal reported late Sunday that Trump had, indeed, withheld his first positive Covid test during that interview). It could mean he was contagious at the presidential debate on Tuesday.
Most disturbingly, it would mean he knowingly attended a fundraising event Thursday with donors at his Bedminster Golf Club after testing positive for Covid.
Understanding the explosive nature of that timeline, the White House later issued a brief statement from Conley saying he had spoken "incorrectly" and that the President, indeed, was diagnosed on Thursday.
But questions have abounded since Thursday afternoon, when it was disclosed by Bloomberg News -- not the White House -- that Hope Hicks, one of the President s closest aides, had tested positive for Covid-19. Hicks had traveled with Trump to Tuesday s debate in Cleveland and a rally Wednesday night in Minnesota, where she fell ill. She was said to have been quarantined on Air Force One on the trip home.
So, the White House knew of Hicks Covid-19 infection before the President left for the fundraiser Thursday morning. He had been exposed, yet he went anyway.If Hicks illness had not been outed by Bloomberg, and Trump had not developed symptoms, would the White House even have shared news of his positive test? Or would they have simply tried to ride it out, hoping he could continue as usual.
The 74-year-old President has been about as forthcoming with his medical records as he has his tax returns and there are many reasons he would have wanted to stifle his Covid test in the final weeks of a tough reelection campaign.
To admit he had Covid-19 would undermine Trump s downplaying of the virus, dismissal of masks and expose as irresponsible his insistence on holding large in-person events.
To admit he tested positive would sideline him and force him off the campaign trail in the final, critical weeks of the campaign.
To admit he had the virus would spoil the caricature of the race he has tried so hard to draw: Trump, the relentless, indefatigable warrior versus Biden, an enfeebled and malleable shut-in.
To admit he was sick would make a mockery of his mockery of Biden for wearing a mask in public and for following the guidance of Trump s own coronavirus task force -- guidance that Trump, himself, has routinely flouted.
Trump s candidacy was already in deep jeopardy because of his deceptions from the start about the severity of the virus. He famously told author Bob Woodward in February that the virus was deadly and highly contagious, even as he downplayed it in public as no more threatening than the flu.The President, who was counting on a strong economy as the lynchpin of his reelection campaign, resisted until he could resist no more the partial shutdown required to try and stop the spread of the virus. And he pushed too soon and too fast for a reopening that led to a new spike of cases in states where Republican governors followed his lead. He has routinely undermined the public health experts on his own coronavirus task force, and placed communications on the virus in the hands of his political apparatchiks who worked to water down the guidance backed by science.
Now more than 209,850 Americans are dead, with projections that the toll could nearly double within months. The US, with just 4% of the world s population, has more than 20% of the Covid deaths.
That sorry record and the President s malfeasance has justly cost him in his reelection campaign. It is a major reason why he has been unable to close the significant edge Biden continues to enjoy in national polls. It is the record Trump was hoping to outrun in the closing weeks.
Now he is facing a serious battle with the very virus he has downplayed for so long.If the White House is proven to have engaged in a grotesque and dangerous cover-up by delaying news of Trump s positive Covid test, the only concern the President should focus on right now is his health.