Trump tested positive for Covid days before Biden debate, says ex-chief of staff Mark Meadows

President’s diagnosis infuriated Biden campaign after maskless mingling at acrimonious first debate

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 01 December 2021 12:43
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Donald Trump appeared for photos during his stay at Walter Reed Medical Center in 2020

In a new book looking back on his time in the White House, Donald Trump’s last presidential chief of staff reveals that the president tested positive for Covid-19 before his first debate with Joe Biden – not after it, as claimed at the time.

An excerpt from The Chief’s Chief obtained by the Guardian offers Mark Meadows’s account of the saga, which saw Mr Trump hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center for several days as his symptoms worsened.

According to Mr Meadows, on 26 September, the White House doctor tried in vain to stop Mr Trump taking off for a rally in Pennsylvania when the positive result came through. At the time, the president was experiencing mild symptoms and suspected he had a cold.

Mr Meadows writes that he himself called Mr Trump to break the news to him, and was met with an answer that “rhyme[d] with ‘Oh spit, you’ve gotta be trucking lidding me’.”

After the positive result, Mr Trump was tested again using a more up-to-date kit and this time tested negative; nonetheless, Mr Meadows writes that he “instructed everyone in his immediate circle to treat him as if he was positive” while Mr Trump travelled to the Pennsylvania rally.

The news that a cluster of infections had broken out at the White House became clear after the 29 September debate, with Trump aide Hope Hicks’s diagnosis revealed on 1 October. The president was taken to Walter Reed on 2 October, announcing his own and Melania Trump’s diagnosis via Twitter.

He would remain at the facility for several days, during which time physicians briefed the media about his condition in sometimes opaque terms. While photoshoots, videos and a drive-by appearance for supporters were staged to give a good impression of the president’s condition, Mr Meadows briefed the press pool on 4 October that “The president’s vitals over the last 24 hours were very concerning, and the next 48 hours will be critical in terms of his care” – contradicting the effort the hospital and the Trump team were making to calm speculation of a serious infection.

When the president was diagnosed with Covid-19, many in the Biden orbit were reportedly furious that the maskless president, his family and his team had potentially exposed them and in particular their 78-year-old candidate to the virus.

Mr Meadows, who remains a Trump loyalist, this week agreed to co-operate with the committee investigating the 6 January attack on the Capitol. The panel’s members expect him to provide crucial insight on what was discussed inside the White House in the days leading up to the insurrection and how the president responded to it while it was underway.

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