The U.S. Intelligence Community warned President Trump in early 2020 that the Chinese Communist Party was downplaying the real threat posed by the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has since become a pandemic with more than 300,000 confirmed cases around the world.
The Trump administration was advised in January and February that Chinese officials “appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak” and “were not being candid about the true scale of the crisis,” according to a report Friday by the Washington Post.
This happened as Trump and his allies played down the danger posed by the outbreak, and critics say he missed a crucial window to respond adequately to ensure sufficient testing and medical equipment.
The article said the classified reports “didn’t predict when the virus might land on U.S. shores or recommend particular steps that public health officials should take,” but the Trump administration did take some early steps to mitigate the spread of the virus into the states, including the declaration of a public health emergency on Jan. 31 and travel restrictions related to China.
At the end of February, Trump implemented restrictions on travel to and from Iran. Trump announced a European travel ban earlier in March and followed up on that by declaring a national emergency as well. The day the Trump administration announced the China travel restrictions, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused him of “hysterical xenophobia.” Major news outlets were also harshly critical of Trump’s decision.
“I wish they could’ve told us earlier about what was going on inside. We didn’t know about it until it started coming out publicly, but I wish they could’ve told us earlier because we could’ve come up with a solution,” Trump said of China during a Saturday press briefing. “China was secretive, okay? Very very secretive. And that’s unfortunate… If we had a two or three-month difference in time, it would’ve been much better.”
The slew of unnamed current and former officials cited by the Washington Post spoke of rampant warnings of the rising threat of the coronavirus early this year and failed attempts by aides to get Trump to take them more seriously. One U.S. official with access to intelligence reporting briefed to Congress and the Trump administration said intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January.” The official said “the system was blinking red” and that “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were — they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it.”
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said, “President Trump has taken historic, aggressive measures to protect the health, wealth and safety of the American people — and did so, while the media and Democrats chose to only focus on the stupid politics of a sham illegitimate impeachment.” Trump himself called it “very inaccurate.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined the Washington Examiner’s request for comment. The CIA declined to comment on the contents of the briefings it provided to the president.
Aggravating the situation, as described in the report, was Trump’s insistence on believing that China’s President Xi Jingping was providing him trustworthy information about the coronavirus.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” Trump tweeted in late January. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
With confirmed COVID-19 cases spiking across the U.S., and hundreds of deaths, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during Friday’s White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing that the world is entitled to know “what China knew and when they knew it” because “the Chinese government was the first to know of this risk to the world.”
Trump interjected to say the Chinese “should have let us know.”
In recent weeks, Pompeo has insisted on calling the illness the “Wuhan coronavirus” and Trump has repeatedly said “Chinese virus” on Twitter and in White House press briefings. Critics argue the terminology is racist and xenophobic, though dozens of media outlets and news shows repeatedly referred to the COVID-19 virus as some variant of the “Chinese coronavirus” or “Wuhan coronavirus” for weeks.
There is well-documented evidence that China tried to cover up the existence and spread of the coronavirus, silenced doctors and whistleblowers, misled the World Health Organization, and attempted to keep independent health experts from investigating in Wuhan. One study indicated that if the Chinese government acted more quickly the coronavirus’s spread around the world would have been greatly reduced.
The WHO concluded the COVID-19 virus has its “epicenter” in Wuhan and its investigative report in February concluded that “early cases identified in Wuhan are believed to have acquired infection from a zoonotic source as many reported visiting or working in the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market.”
The Chinese government and its state-run media outlets deny the coronavirus originated in China, and members of China’s Foreign Ministry and Chinese ambassadors have engaged in a social media disinformation campaign to blame COVID-19 outbreak on the U.S. military.
The State Department condemned China’s efforts to shift the blame on Monday during a call between Pompeo and the director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party.