Former Trump advisers used private emails to warn of ‘critical mistakes’ in pandemic response
Top advisers to former President Trump used private emails to warn of the government’s “critical mistakes” in response to the coronavirus pandemic, even as the president was downplaying the severity of the virus, according to emails obtained by the House coronavirus subcommittee and released Tuesday.
Steven Hatfill, a virologist who worked as an outside consultant for the administration, privately warned White House trade director Peter Navarro at the end of February 2020 that the U.S. did not have any accurate sense of just how many people were infected with the virus.
“In truth we do not have a clue how many are infected in the USA. We are expecting the first wave to spread in the US within the next 7 days,” Hatfill wrote to Navarro on Feb. 29.
“This will be accompanied by a massive loss of credibility, and the Democratic accusations are just now beginning. This must be countered with frank honesty about the situation and decisive direct actions that are being taken and can be seen in the broadcast news.”
Hatfill put the blame directly on failures by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for distributing ineffective coronavirus testing kits.
He pushed Navarro to have the government purchase functional tests, as well as fund the development and distribution of new rapid tests.
Hatfill also recommended the administration use the National Guard to assist overwhelmed state public health teams with testing.
The next day, Navarro sent a memo to Trump, warning of a “significant global pandemic,” and that the federal government was not moving fast enough to combat the virus.
“There is NO downside risk to taking swift action as an insurance policy against what may be a very serious public health emergency,” Navarro wrote.
But rather than heed the warnings, President Trump downplayed the seriousness of the situation.
“[W]e’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away,” Trump said on March 10, less than two weeks later.
The emails from Navarro and Hatfill were obtained by the House select committee on the coronavirus as part of an ongoing investigation.
“These exchanges add to the growing body of evidence that the Trump Administration knew the significant risk posed by the coronavirus but failed to execute an effective strategy to reduce the loss of American lives,” committee chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in a letter sent to Navarro. “The Select Subcommittee seeks to understand what the leaders in the Trump Administration knew, when they knew it, and how their decisions may have contributed to the catastrophic loss of life.”
Additionally, Clyburn noted that Hatfill and Navarro communicated using ProtonMail, an encrypted, private email service.
“These documents raise alarming questions about whether you and other Trump Administration officials were attempting to hide information about the federal response to the coronavirus crisis from public view,” Clyburn wrote.
The Hill has reached out to Navarro and Hatfill for comment.
Those emails also show that in May 2020, the two Trump advisers collaborated on a presentation to promote the benefits of using the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine both as a COVID-19 treatment and as a COVID-19 prophylactic.
They expressed frustration with Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, for resisting their efforts.
They also accused the “mainstream media” of political bias for attacking the drug, claiming it only happened because Trump endorsed use of the drug.
“This politicization of QQ in the media and ostensibly objective medical journals like Lancet— in truth, a highly partisan publication— may well turn out to be one of the great tragedies of the China virus pandemic,” Navarro wrote.
Correction, Sept. 14: An earlier story stated that the email warned of “critical failures.” The email warned of “critical mistakes.”