Shortly after he contracted COVID in fall 2020, then-President Donald Trump suggested he may have gotten the virus from a White House event with Gold Star families with whom he had close contact.
But a new book by Trump’s former chief of staff alleges that Trump had tested positive for coronavirus before the event, suggesting he potentially spread the sickness to some of those family members instead of contracting it from them.
Trump announced on Oct. 2, 2020, that he was sick with virus-related issues and was hospitalized a few hours later at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. The diagnosis came three days after Trump’s nationally televised debate with Joe Biden, then the Democratic candidate for president.
It was also less than a week after a Sept. 27 ceremony at the White House honoring the families of fallen service members. The ceremony included several dozen guests and several high-ranking military officials, with few people in the room wearing masks.
In an interview on Fox Business six days after his hospitalization, Trump speculated that he could have been exposed to the virus from that ceremony.
“I didn’t want to cancel that,” Trump said of the Gold Star event. “They all came in and they all talked about their son and daughter and father … They tell me these stories, and I can’t say ‘back up, stand 10 feet away,’ you know? I just can’t do it.
“And I went through like 35 people, and everyone has a different story … They come within an inch of my face sometimes, they want to hug me and they want to kiss me. And they do. And frankly, I’m not telling them to back up. I’m not doing it, but obviously it’s a dangerous thing, I guess, if you go by the COVID thing.”
But in his new memoir (obtained by The Guardian), Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff at the time, said the commander in chief already had tested positive for COVID on Sept. 26, a day before the event.
A second test done the same with different methods came back negative, and Trump assumed the first was a false positive. Meadows wrote that staff were instructed by doctors to act as if the president was infected, but few did.
Trump was not tested again before his debate with Biden because he arrived late to the venue. Trump announced he had coronavirus over Twitter three days later.
Following Trump’s Fox Business interview, Democratic lawmakers bashed the president for accusing Gold Star families of making him sick.
“Whether he intended it or not, the President has blamed an event with families who lost their loved ones in battle for giving him COVID. That is a shocking statement even for this President,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I..
In a statement to the Guardian, Trump denied the Meadows’ timeline for his sickness.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.