Did Donald Trump risk endangering countless numbers of people by showing up for an in-person presidential debate with Joe Biden days after testing positive for COVID-19 last September? That’s the extraordinary new claim from Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff.
The Guardian obtained a copy of Meadows’ upcoming book, The Chief’s Chief, which claims Trump first tested positive on Sept. 26—three days before his first debate against Biden.
Trump later suggested that he caught the virus from Gold Star families who got too close to him at a White House event held the day after Meadows says he secretly tested positive.
“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,” Trump told Fox Business in an interview last October after his recovery. “Give me room. I want room. Give me 12 feet. Stay 12 feet away when you talk.”
But a Gold Star mother who attended the event told The Daily Beast that Trump’s version of events was not true.
“Wait, he said that?” she asked.
“We hug and kiss our veterans, other Gold Stars, families, but not anyone else and not the president. That just would not ever happen. We certainly would not go up and try to hug the president—that would be entirely inappropriate and we just do not do that,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used, citing the group’s desire to avoid appearing political.
Told about Meadows’ claim that Trump had tested positive the day before the event, the mother was incredulous.
“Are you serious?… He knew?” she said, adding that the ex-president’s decision to go ahead with the event despite his alleged positive test was “very disappointing.”
Meadows recounts Trump taking off on the Marine One helicopter from the White House lawn on Sept. 26 to get to a Pennsylvania rally right after attending the Supreme Court confirmation event for Amy Coney Barrett—now known to have been a superspreader event.
According to Meadows, the White House doctor called him as they lifted off. “Stop the president from leaving,” Sean Conley purportedly told Meadows. “He just tested positive for COVID.”
However, according to Meadows, it was too late to stop Trump from leaving. Meadows admits there were concerns about the president ahead of him getting onto the chopper, writing that Trump was showing mild symptoms described by his former chief of staff as a “slight cold.”
Once Trump got off the helicopter and onto Air Force One, Meadows recounts that he called the president to tell him: “Mr President... I’ve got some bad news. You’ve tested positive for COVID-19.” He writes Trump’s reply “rhyme[d] with ‘Oh spit, you’ve gotta be trucking lidding me.’”
Shortly afterward, according to book’s account, Trump was r-tested with what Meadows claims was a more accurate system and returned a negative result. Meadows claims that Trump viewed that result as “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened,” and he went ahead with the rally in Middletown and, three days later, the first Biden debate.
The host of that debate, Chris Wallace of Fox News, said Trump was not tested before the event as planned because he had arrived late at the site. Days later, on Oct. 2, Trump publicly announced that he had COVID-19 and was rushed to a hospital later that same day.
Meadows, clearly anticipating criticism for allowing the president to carry on with his busy schedule, exposing himself to countless numbers of people despite the positive test, defends himself in the book, writing: “I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks... but I also didn’t want to alarm the public if there was nothing to worry about—which according to the new, much more accurate test, there was not.”
In a brief statement released following the publication of The Guardian article Wednesday morning, Trump said: “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.”
Following the White House event honoring the families of fallen U.S. service members, The Daily Beast reported that administration officials quietly warned the veterans group about potential exposure. The public was never informed about Trump’s initial positive test, and neither was the veterans group, according to multiple members. Multiple members of the nationwide network told The Daily Beast that to the best of their knowledge, none of the attendees tested positive in the weeks following the event.
Earlier that month a bombshell report in The Atlantic claimed that Trump had said American troops who died in war were “losers and suckers.” Trump also called that story “Fake News.”