President Donald Trump was reportedly and repeatedly warned about the potential severity of a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic for months by way of daily intelligence briefings as his press appearances consistently downplayed the threat.
According to several anonymous sources cited by the Washington Post, Trump was first made aware of the likely grim consequences posed by the virus in January and February. Those warnings, said to number in excess of a dozen, came via the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a compendium of national security issues provided to the executive by multiple U.S. intelligence-gathering organizations.
“The President trivialized the significance of the PDB at the beginning of his presidency, and this was exactly our concern when he did that: he apparently couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to an incoming pandemic outlined in detail in the PDB,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime via email. “Leading and governing involves more than just controlling media cycles.”
Per the Post‘s Monday evening report:
For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.
But the alarms appear to have failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience even for the oral summary he now takes two or three times per week, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.
“Trump is incurious and doesn’t care about actually solving problems, only up-keeping the appearance of success,” Rantt Media Editor Ahmed Baba commented. “I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you’re on. A president who doesn’t give a damn about solving problems and doesn’t read his PDB is unfit to lead.”
Trump appears to have first acknowledged the coronavirus publicly on January 22 when he said, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
The 45th president addressed the deadly contagion again just over a week later during a speech in Michigan.
“We think we have it very well under control,” he told supporters. “We have very little problem in this country at this moment–five–and those people are all recuperating successfully. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us…that I can assure you.”
Those expressions of confidence are perhaps chilling in retrospect; Trump’s own administration’s response proved to be largely inept for at least the next six weeks, his critics say. The White House’s narrative was at times mimicked in several states. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) dithered for weeks and ignored the advice of experts until the Empire State became the world’s epicenter of infection and death.
“Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers–I speak for the mayor also on this one–we think we have the best health care system on the planet right here in New York,” Cuomo said during a press conference from March 2. “So, when you’re saying, what happened in other countries versus what happened here, we don’t even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries.”
And while blame for inaction and finger-pointing abounds, the president’s own delay in publicly acknowledging the severity shines in stark relief to his own public statements on the threat posed by the worst pandemic the world has seen in decades–especially in light of the international dimensions at stake.
Trump praised China over one dozen times during the same time period as his alleged dismissal of those PDBs. Those same summaries also purportedly took the Chinese government to task for their own mishandling of the COVID-19 response and misrepresentations of said response.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” the president said on January 24. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping]!”
[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images]
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