Donald Trump claimed more than a dozen times that he was the most transparent president in history. But according to a top aide and ally, when he tested positive for the coronavirus for the first time in the fall of 2020, his White House did not disclose it, went forward with events including one with veterans and a debate, and then spent weeks refusing to confirm reporters’ correct suspicions that it had hidden Trump’s diagnosis.
Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’s book is not the kind of tell-all, critical book we’ve seen from many former administration officials. But it does include at least one stunning admission: that Trump’s first positive coronavirus test came much earlier than we previously knew, and before Trump proceeded to potentially expose plenty of people.
As the Guardian reports, Meadows wrote that Trump first tested positive for the virus on Sept. 26, three days before his Sept. 29 debate with Joe Biden. Trump would not disclose a positive test until Oct. 2, shortly after which he became quite ill and was airlifted to a hospital, where he received experimental treatments and recovered. Meadows reported that Trump took another test at the time, which came back negative.
That was apparently good enough to press forward with Trump’s public schedule — which Trump would later suggest was responsible for his own positive test, but which came after what Meadows said was his first one.
Here’s a look at the chronology.
Sept. 26: Trump holds a Rose Garden ceremony for his nominee to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. The event includes a largely maskless indoor reception and is later labeled a “superspreader” event by Anthony S. Fauci. Among those who contracted the virus at the time and were present for the ceremony were former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), a journalist and University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins.
Later Sept. 26: As Trump departs for an outdoor rally that night, staff are informed of Trump’s positive coronavirus test. White House doctor Sean Conley says, according to Meadows: “Stop the president from leaving. He just tested positive for covid.” Meadows relays the message to Trump, then relays the news of a separate, negative test. Trump treats the negative test as “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened,” Meadows wrote.
Evening of Sept. 26: Trump holds a rally in Middletown, Pa.
Sept. 27: Trump hosts an event at the White House with Gold Star families, coming in close contact with them. Trump later suggests he might have contracted the virus at the event, even though he had tested positive the day before.
“They come within an inch of my face sometimes, and they want to hug me, they want to kiss me, and they do. And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up. I’m not doing it,” Trump said in early October. “But it’s obviously dangerous.” It was obviously dangerous, but in the opposite direction that Trump suggested.
Sept. 28: At another Rose Garden event — this time on expanding coronavirus testing — Trump does something curious, delivering remarks from a lectern about 10 feet away from other speakers. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump later asked a now-prescient question, “Did Trump already know that he might have contracted the virus?”
Sept. 29: Trump attends his debate with Biden in Ohio, where the two skip the ceremonial handshake and stand farther apart than usual. Trump’s contingent at the debate flouts requests to wear masks. Moderator Chris Wallace later says Trump wasn’t tested before the debate because he arrived late, and the event was relying upon the “honor system.” At least 11 cases are later tied to the debate.
Sept. 30: Trump holds a fundraiser and another outdoor rally in Duluth, Minn. At the rally, Trump mocks Biden for having socially distanced events and for criticizing his own holding of larger rallies: “You know, Biden has 20, 30 people — he’s got those circles. Today, he had a little bit more, like 30 or 40, but they were too close together. I sent him a note. “Dear Joe, they were too close, 34 people right next to each other, and yet he complained about our rally, right?”
Oct. 1: Trump holds a largely maskless fundraiser in New Jersey.
Later Oct. 1: White House aide Hope Hicks tests positive. Trump’s rapid test comes back positive shortly before a phone interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, according to the Wall Street Journal’s later reporting. When asked about an aide testing positive, Trump doesn’t disclose his own positive test, instead referring to another test for which he was still awaiting results.
But Trump suggests that a possible infection might have come from military or law enforcement. “You know, it’s very hard, when you’re with soldiers, when you’re with airmen, when you’re with Marines, and I’m with — and the police officers,” Trump said. “I’m with them so much. And when they come over here, it’s very hard to say, stay back, stay back. It’s a tough kind of a situation.”
1 a.m. Oct. 2: Trump announces via Twitter that he and first lady Melania Trump indeed tested positive, for the first time, and says they will quarantine.
Later Oct. 2: The White House says Trump has mild symptoms, but he later takes a helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a battery of treatments.
Oct. 3: Conley states it has been 72 hours since Trump’s positive test, which would place it in the middle of the day on Sept. 30 — earlier than the then-known test on Oct. 1 and before his events in Minnesota and New Jersey. Conley later says he meant it was Day 3, suggesting the positive test was indeed on Oct. 1. But Conley cites “PCR confirmation,” which could be read to mean another test might have come back positive earlier.
The White House goes on to provide plenty of mixed signals on Trump’s condition, which was ultimately revealed to be more serious than it let on.
Update: Trump has released a statement sort of contradicting Meadows’s book, but not really. Trump says, “The story of me having covid prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News. In fact, a test revealed that I did not have covid prior to the debate.” As Meadows noted, Trump did later test negative and treated it as permission to keep his schedule. But he was soon revealed to indeed have contracted the virus at some point.