Trump Claims He Didn’t Learn of Navarro Coronavirus Memo Until Days Ago — And ‘Basically Did’ What It Said Despite Downplaying Risk for Weeks
President Donald Trump claimed both ignorance of a White House adviser’s January memo portending the coronavirus pandemic and that his administration essentially followed its warnings — even though he had continually downplayed the threat for throughout February and into March.
During the daily coronavirus task force press briefing on Tuesday, Trump was confronted with the existence of an eerily prescient memo, dated January 29, written by White House economic adviser Peter Navarro. In it, Navarro — a well-known China hawk — warned that the coronavirus outbreak currently spreading in China could potentially wreak havoc on the U.S. economy and sicken or kill many Americans.
“So at the time, though, when Peter Navarro did circulate those memos, you were still downplaying the threat of coronavirus in the U.S. You were saying things like ‘I think it’s a problem is that is going to go away,'” a reporter pointed out to Trump.
“It will go away,” Trump broke in.
“You said ‘within a couple of days, the cases will be down to zero,'” the reporter corrected, referring to a public statement from February, in which Trump boasted that his administration had done a “pretty good job” of dealing with COVID-19 while also predicting that the 15 cases reported at the time “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
“Well, the cases really didn’t build up for a while,” Trump deflected, before implying that he had intentionally offered the public the best-case scenario of the threat instead of warning of the dire consequences found in Navarro’s memo. “But you have to understand, I’m a cheerleader for this country. I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else.”
“But ultimately, when I was saying that, I’m also closing it down. I obviously was concerned about it because I closed down our country to China, which was heavily infected,” Trump continued, alluding to his decision to close commercial travel to the U.S. from China on January 30. “I then closed it down to Europe. That’s a big move, closing it down from China and then closing it down from Europe and ultimately closing it down to the U.K. And it was right about that time. But I’m not going to go out and start screaming, ‘This could happen, this could happen.'”
After crosstalk from two reporters, another journalist pressed Trump on the timing of when he learned about the Navarro memo.
“I read about it maybe a day ago, two days ago,” Trump said, vaguely.
“Do you feel someone among your staff or Peter Navarro himself should have told you about the memo earlier?” the reporter asked.
“No, not at all. It was a recommendation. It was a feeling that he had. I think he told certain people in the staff, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t see it,” Trump said dismissively. “But I did — I closed it down. I don’t even remember it being discussed. We had a meeting where there were a lot of people. Most people felt we shouldn’t close down to China, but I felt we had to do it. And that was almost the exact time as the memo.”
“If you had read the memo at the time, how would that have changed the steps you took?” the reporter said in a follow up.
“I don’t think it would’ve changed, because I basically did what the memo said. And the memo was — the memo was pretty good memo from the standpoint that he talked, I guess, I didn’t see it yet.”
In fact, in late February, nearly one month after Navarro circulated his memo, Trump was definitively not treating the virus as a serious threat, and was instead dismissing CDC warnings about COVID-19’s potential impact in the U.S. and saying: “Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.” And then in March, he repeatedly claimed that his administration was blindsided by the scale and costs of the pandemic, saying it “came out of nowhere” and that “nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion.”
Watch the video above, via MSNBC.
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