Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows’s decision to disclose that President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus earlier than known last year was a weird one from the start.

Meadows, unlike others in Trump’s orbit, hasn’t set out to criticize the former president or write a juicy tell-all. Yet, here he is saying Trump pressed forward with public events including a debate with Joe Biden after his Sept. 26, 2020, positive test — a decision that could have exposed countless people to the virus, courtesy of the president himself.

Now a cleanup effort is afoot. It’s just not one that makes a much sense.

After Trump on Wednesday labeled reporting on the claim in Meadows’s book “Fake News,” Meadows himself actually retweeted it. It seemed at the time the defense was going to be the idea that this was a false positive. And sure enough, that’s what Meadows argued Wednesday night on Newsmax.

“If you actually read the book — the context of it — that story outlined a false positive,” Meadows said. “Literally he had a test, had two other tests after that that showed he didn’t have covid during the debate.”

It’s a superficially plausible argument. Maybe Trump tested positive but hadn’t actually contracted the virus yet. Maybe it’s just a huge coincidence that, just a week later after disclosing a positive test, Trump fell very ill and was taken via helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Or maybe this was exactly what it seemed: a reckless decision by a U.S. president who might well have contracted the virus.

Which is certainly what Meadows himself hints at in his book, according to the Guardian’s report.

Meadows states that after the positive test, another test came back negative. At that point, he said, Trump took the negative test as “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened.” He also said the “nothing was going to stop” Trump from participating in the debate three days after his positive test. Those are curious statements to include if you believe such an approach was safe and warranted.

Meadows also disclosed that those around Trump were, indeed, still treating him like a coronavirus case. Meadows reportedly writes that he personally “instructed everyone in his immediate circle to treat [Trump] as if he was positive.”

In other words, those who knew about the positive test took it seriously. Meanwhile, Trump went forward with public events that featured close encounters with people who didn’t have this information, including families that had lost loved ones in military service.

And that’s the inescapable point here. Even if certain people believed it to be a false positive, there was always the very real chance it was not. And the further testing described by Meadows does not discount that possibility.

The second point is there’s plenty of reason to believe Trump was, in fact, positive for the virus. The second, negative test, Meadows suggests, was a rapid antigen test. As The Post’s Dan Diamond notes, such testing was hardly the most reliable — and certainly wouldn’t be treated as the final word on the matter.

The timeline here is also inescapable. To believe this was a false positive, Trump would have been in the clear but then, through happenstance, would have contracted the virus separately a few days later.

But even at the time, it was noted that Trump’s falling ill on Oct. 2 shortly after revealing his positive test was consistent with having contracted the virus earlier than he and the White House let on. People generally don’t experience symptoms so quickly, and Trump was tested regularly. To contract the virus on or around Oct. 1 — the date of the test Trump first disclosed as being positive — and to be flown to the hospital on Oct. 2 isn’t generally how it works.

The final, crucial point is that even Meadows seems to believe Trump was indeed ill shortly after his positive test — and well before Oct. 1-2. From the Guardian’s piece:

On debate day, 29 September, Meadows says, Trump looked slightly better — “emphasis on the word slightly.”
“His face, for the most part at least, had regained its usual light bronze hue, and the gravel in his voice was gone. But the dark circles under his eyes had deepened. As we walked into the venue around five o’clock in the evening, I could tell that he was moving more slowly than usual. He walked like he was carrying a little extra weight on his back.”

So Trump tested positive, then negative. Meadows noticed him appearing under the weather and instructed staffers to treat him like he was positive. Meadows also noted Trump’s insistence on pressing forward despite the positive test. These aren’t the words of someone who believed it was truly a false positive and much ado about nothing. And even if Meadows did believe that, pressing forward in public without telling people Trump encountered, who could make such a decision for themselves, was reckless.

Meadows seems to know that, and for some reason suggested as much in his book. But now he thinks he has to try to explain it all away — and is doing it poorly.