'I didn't do it': Trump shuns responsibility for cutting pandemic team before White House cuts mic of reporter asking 'nasty question'

President says he 'doesn't know anything about' disbanding his own national security team in 2018

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 13 March 2020 17:33 GMT
Trump shuns responsibility for cutting pandemic team before White House cuts reporter microphone

Donald Trump shifted blame for cutting his administration's global health security team in 2018, telling a reporter who asked whether he takes responsibility that she asked a "nasty question".

PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked why the president doesn't "take responsibility" for the administration's slow response to the Covid-19 outbreak despite his disbanding of a White House office on pandemic response.

He replied: "I just think that's a nasty question ... When you say me, I didn't do it."

Under a reorganisation from then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, the departure of Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council has left the administration without any senior official overseeing a US pandemic response, despite the heightened security risks of a public health emergency or bioterror attack. He was not replaced.

Ms Alcindor asked Mr Trump to clarify: "You don't know anything about that?"

The president said: "You say we did that. I don't know anything about it. ... Let people go. You used to be with a different newspaper. Things like that happen."

As her microphone audio was cut off, the president said: "We're doing a great job."

The president's shutdown of that team has also faced criticism within his own administration, as public health officials have said its disbanding likely cost valuable response time to a virus that has now sickened at least 1,800 people in the US, including the deaths of at least 41 people.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is among the team leading the administration's response to the outbreak, has said that "it would be nice if the office was still there."

"We worked very well with that office", he said this week.

The president has struggled to answer why exactly he chose to close the office.

He told reporters last month: "I'm a businessperson. I don't like having thousands of people around when you don't need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly."

But he can't — Georgetown public management professor Don Moynihan explained: "Once you have gutted institutional capacity, you cannot, in fact, quickly restore it."

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