Apr 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

NYT: Trump was told in Jan. about memo warning of mass coronavirus death

In this image, Trump stands in the briefing room
President Trump listens to a question during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on April 10. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump was informed in late January of a memo from White House economic adviser Peter Navarro that warned the novel coronavirus could kill up to half a million Americans and cost trillions of dollars, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Trump has repeatedly denied seeing January and February memos that Navarro sent, while insisting he did "more or less" what his adviser suggested by banning non-U.S. citizens from traveling from China effective Feb. 2.

  • Early missteps allowed COVID-19 to spread throughout the U.S. for weeks before state and local officials took action with strict lockdowns designed to keep the pandemic from spinning further out of control.

What they found: After Trump was presented with a mitigation plan on Feb. 24, "focus would shift to messaging and confident predictions of success rather than publicly calling for a shift to mitigation," NYT reports.

  • Trump's scheduled meeting with health officials advocating for widespread stay-at-home directives was replaced with the Feb. 26 White House briefing that put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of leading the administration's response to COVID-19, per the Times.
  • The axed meeting came after Trump "fumed" over a CDC official's public warning that mitigation efforts like social distancing would be necessary, the Times reports.

What they're saying: “While the media and Democrats refused to seriously acknowledge this virus in January and February, President Trump took bold action to protect Americans and unleash the full power of the federal government to curb the spread of the virus, expand testing capacities and expedite vaccine development even when we had no true idea the level of transmission or asymptomatic spread,” Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, told Axios in a statement.

Go deeper: Read the Navarro memos, first published by Axios

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