WASHINGTON – The U.S. intelligence community repeatedly warned President Donald Trump about the danger posed by the highly contagious coronavirus during the months of January and February, according to a report published by the Washington Post on Friday.
The warnings failed to convince Trump, who despite the information intelligence officials presented to him, downplayed the gravity of the situation and compared the virus to a regular flu outbreak.
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Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, tried for days to get a slot in the president’s schedule to discuss the imminent outbreak of the global pandemic. When he finally managed to hold a phone conversation with Trump, the president favored discussing flavored vaping products, not the coronavirus, according to senior administration officials cited by the Post.
Several officials told the Post that the president ignored the matter since he did not believe that the virus would spread across the United States. This coincides with the public statements made by Trump, who on February 19 said that “It’s going to work out fine” and that by April, “warmer weather” will halt the spread of the virus.
Trump is currently trying to emphasize in his public appearances the fact that the virus originated from China, insisting on calling it “the Chinese virus.” But as the Post notes, the president praised China for its handling of the virus in late January.
“China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “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 President Xi!” According to the report, Trump made these remarks at the same time that intelligence officials were warning the administration that China was lying about the severity of the virus.
In late February, after the virus had already spread significantly throughout Europe and began to appear in the United States, a senior official at the Center for Disease Control publicly warned that the virus could have “severe” consequences in the United States, the report says. Trump, in reply, complained to his health secretary that such warnings were “scaring the stock markets” and should be avoided.
The White House said in a statement that “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.”