This post has been updated with CNN's new report on Bornstein's doctor letter.
President Trump has never been a model of medical disclosure. Both of his most recent personal doctors have offered unbelievably rosy reviews of his health, omitting or spinning key facts, and both have had their credibility called into question.
We may be finding out why they did what they did.
NBC News just reported on what might be the craziest White House story you'll read this week. It involves Trump's colorful longtime personal doctor, Harold Bornstein, who claims that Trump's bodyguard, a Trump Organization lawyer and a third man conducted a “raid” of his office in February 2017, seizing 35 years of Trump's medical records. And on top of that, Bornstein now says Trump dictated his own initial doctor's letter, according to CNN.
The biggest question on the former is whether any laws were broken with the seizure, which Bornstein said left him feeling “raped, frightened and sad.” Bornstein said he wasn't provided a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release signed by the patient, Trump, which would be a violation. (An individual told NBC that there was a letter from Trump's then-White House doctor, Ronny L. Jackson, but that it wouldn't be sufficient.)
The second-biggest takeaway here, though, is how heavy-handed all this was. That may speak to why we still don't have a completely sober-minded review of Trump's health.
The event that appeared to set in motion the “raid” was Bornstein's disclosure in a New York Times interview that Trump takes a hair-loss drug, Propecia, along with medication for rosacea. Neither drug was disclosed in Trump's doctor's letters, and as I wrote at the time, Trump failed to correct the record on two occasions. When Dr. Mehmet Oz interviewed him about his health and said the only medication Trump was taking was a statin, Trump mentioned neither of the other drugs. Later, Oz mentioned Trump's low PSA (prostate-specific antigen), which is a side effect of Propecia (or finasteride), which is also used as a prostate drug. But Trump didn't connect those dots. Instead, he said: “My PSA has been very good. I don't know what's going on.”
It's extremely logical to assume that Trump was feeling self-conscious about the drugs he took for his hair and skin and decided not to disclose them. In Bornstein's telling, this disclosure seemed to set the Trump World off. The day the New York Times interview ran, he said, Trump's longtime personal assistant Rhona Graff called him and told him, “So you wanted to be the White House doctor? Forget it; you're out.'" Two days later came the “raid.”
Bornstein said he didn't realize what all the fuss was about when it came to Trump taking Propecia. “I couldn't believe anybody was making a big deal out of a drug to grow his hair that seemed to be so important,” he told NBC News. “And it certainly was not a breach of medical trust to tell somebody they take Propecia to grow their hair. What's the matter with that?”
That's a little Pollyannaish. Everyone has a right to medical privacy, even the president. And regardless of Trump's lack of disclosure, perhaps an angry reaction was to be expected.
But that doesn't necessarily justify the “raid” that ensued. Nor do we know why Trump's aides seized the records rather than filing a complaint against Bornstein. It's not too conspiratorial to say Bornstein was disclosing things that Trump didn't want disclosed, and they sought to stop it — using muscle.
This isn't the first time Bornstein has alleged being pressured by those around Trump. He justified his initial, extremely over-the-top review of Trump's health by saying he was given five minutes to draft it while a limo waited outside his office. He later moderated the things he had said, including that Trump would be the healthiest president ever. Now he is telling CNN that Trump dictated the letter. And the fact that Trump's use of the hair-loss and rosacea drugs was obscured in the first place suggests Bornstein wasn't allowed to be particularly forthcoming.
We've long had reason to believe Trump didn't treat his medical records and status with much thought or care — and perhaps that the doctors treating him had been infected with a kind of “Trumpitis,” picking up on the president's own penchant for hyperbole.
This suggests, though, that Trump has taken an acute and controlling interest in what his doctors say (and don't say) about him — so much so that he may be willing to launch a little shock-and-awe operation that might have been illegal.