““Stop the president from leaving. He just tested positive for COVID.””
— Sean Conley, White House doctor, to Mark Meadows
On Sept. 26, 2020, just three days before President Donald Trump’s first presidential debate — and less than a week before he was hospitalized with COVID-19 — he tested positive for the novel coronavirus, leading to that above plea from White House doctor Sean Conley. This revelation comes from a new tell-all book about the Trump presidency, written this time by Mark Meadows, the president’s former chief of staff.
Conley’s test result came as the president was heading to a rally in Middletown, Penn., and had already departed Washington. Here was how Meadows carefully phrased Trump’s response, per The Guardian:
“Trump’s reply, the devout Christian writes, “rhyme[d] with ‘Oh spit, you’ve gotta be trucking lidding me.’””
— Mark Meadows, paraphrasing Donald Trump, as quoted in The Guardian
A second test was done after the first one, and when that one was negative, the White House continued with the president’s campaign schedule — despite the president seeming under the weather to those around him.
In the days between the positive test and his hospitalization, the president had a number of in-person events that led to a number of cases that were traced back to the White House. One such event, just a few hours prior, was a Rose Garden event to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. That outdoor ceremony, and the indoor events immediately after, led to infections from a number of guests and White House staffers, including former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had to be hospitalized to fight the virus.
Trump also held a Sept. 27 indoor event with Gold Star families — and later pointed to that as a source of his infection. “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 I did say it’s obviously dangerous. It’s a dangerous thing, if you go by the COVID thing,” he told Fox Business after he was released from the Walter Reed Medical Center.
But the president also showed up to the first presidential debate — and he was not tested before he was in a room with Joe Biden. The president arrived late, and was allowed to proceed thanks to the “honor system.”
Trump responded to the report — which comes directly from his former chief of staff’s book — by slightly obfuscating. Trump wrote that “a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate,” likely pointing to the negative test that Meadows wrote about.
“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.”
— Donald Trump, in an email response