Between January and August 2019, Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), headed by Alex Azar, runs a simulation—code-named Crimson Contagion—in which a “respiratory virus [that] began in China . . . [is] quickly spread around the world by air travelers . . . [with] high fevers.”1 Upon its conclusion in August 2019, the Crimson Contagion simulation registers 110 million infected Americans, 7.7 million hospitalizations, and 586,000 fatalities.2 A month later, White House economists working with the NSC produce a study “that warn[s] a pandemic disease could kill a half million Americans and devastate the [U.S.] economy.”3 The Crimson Contagion report and the economists’ paper are follow-ups on the Pandemic Influenza Plan, developed and released by the White House in December 2017; by mid-April 2020, Politico will report Trump has “failed” to abide by the plan, missing “nearly all” of the pandemic-response goals established by the document.4

According to the New York Times, the “sobering” Crimson Contagion data, which circulates within the Trump administration in October 2019, “[drives] home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.”5 Nevertheless, after the COVID-19 outbreak begins in the United States, President Trump will falsely declare that “nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion” and “nobody ever thought of numbers like this.”6 In fact, writes the New York Times in March 2020, “his own administration had already modeled a similar pandemic and understood its potential trajectory” and “accurately predicted the very types of problems Mr. Trump is now scrambling belatedly to address.”7 In addition to ignoring the lessons of the Crimson Contagion report and the work product of economists contracted by the White House, Trump also, per Politico, “ignore[s]” a sixty-nine-page 2016 National Security Council document, “Playbook for High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents,” that “provide[s] a step by step list of priorities” in a pandemic.8

The White House’s disconnect from the NSC throughout the COVID-19 outbreak is partially attributable to Trump. In April 2018, the president had fired homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, who according to the Washington Post “had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics”; weeks later, the administration “eliminat[ed]” the job of Trump’s global health security team director, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, and disbanded Ziemer’s entire team.9

On November 16, 2019, in the United States—November 17 in China—a fifty-five-year-old resident of China’s Hubei province is put “under medical surveillance” for an unexplained ailment, according to The Guardian.10 The British media outlet reports that, according to nonpublic medical surveillance data held by the Chinese government, this man “could have been the first person to contract COVID-19.”11 The virus is believed to have originated in the Huanan “wet market,” a wildlife emporium in the city of Wuhan that sells—among other exotic species—“ foxes, wolf cubs, civets, turtles, and snakes.”12

Per The Guardian, while Beijing will report to the World Health Organization (WHO) that its “first confirmed [COVID-19] case . . . [was] diagnosed on December 8,” there is evidence to suggest that U.S. intelligence was aware of the approximately two dozen cases of the novel coronavirus recorded in Hubei province in November 2019, including that of the man in Hubei who may or may not have become the pandemic’s “patient zero” on November 16/17.13 The South China Morning Post reports that while “interviews with whistle-blowers from the [Chinese] medical community suggest Chinese doctors only realized they were dealing with a new disease in late December [2019],” it is “possible that there were reported [COVID-19] cases dating back even earlier than [November 16/17].”14 This possibility appears to be confirmed by a Business Insider report on “a research paper from infectious-disease researchers in China” that finds “a surprising trend on the Chinese social-media platform WeChat: Usage of keywords related to the new coronavirus spiked more than two weeks before officials confirmed the first cases . . . [including] in posts and searches on WeChat . . . [beginning on] November 17.”15 That a “spike” in such searches comes in mid-November 2019 suggests that WeChat search logs including terms relating to a new illness may have begun appearing on Chinese social media at the beginning of November or even earlier.

It will be discovered in spring 2020 that a woman in San Jose, California, who became “unusually sick” in late January and died on February 6, had COVID-19 but no recent travel history linking her to China; this further suggests that the initial outbreak of the virus in China may have been earlier than the December timeframe memorialized in Beijing’s official report to the WHO.16 Dr. Jeffrey V. Smith, a Santa Clara, California, county executive and medical doctor, will tell the New York Times that Patricia Dowd’s death from COVID-19 on February 6 means the novel coronavirus “was probably around [in California] unrecognized for quite some time.”17 Santa Clara County’s public health officer, Sara Cody, adds, per Politico, that “we had community transmission probably to a significant degree far earlier than we had known.”18 These reassessments of the pandemic timeline are bolstered by the May 2020 discovery in France of a COVID-19 patient without a reported history of travel to China who was admitted for emergency care on December 27, 2019. Even more startling is a mid-May report by NBC News detailing X-rays of two French patients with “symptoms consistent with the novel coronavirus” taken on November 16 and November 18, 2019—a bombshell discovery that NBC says “if confirmed . . . is evidence that the [SARS-CoV- 2] virus was spreading in Europe . . . well before COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, had been officially identified in China.”19 According to CNN, a peer-reviewed British study conducted at University College London also “found genetic evidence that supports suspicions the virus was infecting people in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere weeks or even months before the first official cases were reported in January and February [2020]”; consistent with this analysis, in May 2020 the AP finds that medical data from Seattle places the virus stateside in December 2019. Yet even these startling findings are eclipsed by a June 2020 bombshell report from ABC News, which reveals that, per satellite imagery analyzed as part of a Harvard Medical School study, so many cars were outside five major Wuhan hospitals in late September and October 2019 that it “suggest[s] the novel coronavirus may have been present and spreading through central China long before the outbreak was first reported to the world.”20

In November 2019, eighteen months after Trump disbands Adm. Ziemer’s pandemic-response team, “U.S. spy agencies . . . [begin] tracking the rise of [a] novel coronavirus,” according to CNN.21 The intelligence gathered provides “multiple early warnings about the potential severity” of the eventual COVID-19 pandemic.22 The Times of Israel will confirm the CNN report, revealing that “the U.S. intelligence community became aware of the emerging disease in Wuhan in the second week of [November 2019]” and immediately “drew up a classified document” on the potential threat—a fact the Israeli media outlet learned on the basis of the document having been shared by at least one U.S. intelligence agency with both NATO and the Israel Defense Forces after the Trump White House indicated, per the Times of Israel, that for unexplained reasons it was “not interested” in the information.23 The Times further reports that, Beijing’s since-uncovered nonpublic medical surveillance information on a November 17 presumed coronavirus case notwithstanding, government documentation “on the disease outbreak was not in the public domain [between November 8 and November 14] . . . [and such information] was known only apparently to the Chinese government” and to U.S. intelligence agencies.24 While the Israeli outlet confirms that “U.S. intelligence informed the Trump administration” of its discovery, the exact date of this intelligence transmission in November remains unknown. 25

What is known, according to ABC News, is that by “late November” a National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI) report had warned the White House that “a contagion was sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population,” with the NCMI concluding that the contagion “could be a cataclysmic event.” 26 ABC adds that the report was “briefed multiple times” in November to “the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and the White House.” 27 All told, the picture presented by CNN, Business Insider, the South China Morning Post, the Times of Israel, and ABC News is of U.S. military intelligence repeatedly passing urgent warnings to the Trump White House between November 9 and the end of November about a virus causing cold- or flu-like symptoms that may have been present in China beginning in September 2019.

On November 16, 2019, as President Trump is exhibiting cold-like symptoms, he is unexpectedly—and without any explanation to the public, either at the time or since—rushed to a U.S. military hospital, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.28 Hours after the unscheduled visit, during which Trump’s blood is drawn and tested for unknown reasons, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tells U.S. media that the president had decided to complete the first portion of his annual physical exam after the sudden discovery that he had a “free weekend” to do so.29 Within forty-eight hours, however, Grisham’s claim has been contradicted not only by Grisham herself—who comes to categorize the visit as a “checkup,” per CNN, making “no mention of it being part of Trump’s ‘annual physical’ ”—but also by one of Trump’s doctors, Sean Conley, who calls the visit a “routine, planned interim checkup as part of the regular, primary preventative care [the president] receives throughout the year.” 30 The next day, November 19, Trump reverts to Grisham’s original categorization of his trip to Walter Reed, calling it part of a “very routine physical” scheduled to be completed in January 2020.31

CNN will refer to the White House’s explanations for the trip as “shifting,” quoting former vice president Dick Cheney’s longtime cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, as being “very skeptical” of the administration’s claims about the reason for Trump’s sudden trip to a military hospital. “The President has a physician with him every day and access to 24/7/360 care,” Reiner tells CNN after being, per the media outlet, “in touch with the White House . . . about Trump’s visit” to Walter Reed. “I have no doubt he was taken to Walter Reed to do something specific and separate from ‘a quick exam and some bloodwork.’ All that can be done at the White House.”32 According to the cable news network, Vice President Pence’s former physician, Dr. Jennifer Peña, shares Dr. Reiner’s skepticism, calling the “interim checkup” and “annual physical” characterizations provided by the White House “very” distinct from each other. 33 CNN adds that “multiple sources and experts have said that the President’s trip to Walter Reed was abnormal or outside of the protocol for routine visits to Walter Reed,” with the Washington Post adding that “it is unusual for a president to undergo a physical exam in multiple stages months apart.” 34 Indeed, even the president’s attire for his unscheduled November 16 hospital visit is unusual, with HuffPost noting that “the president normally wears a suit and tie for most events, including visits to Walter Reed, but that Saturday [November 16] he wore an open-collared shirt and jacket as he climbed into the SUV, carrying a thick packet of papers under one arm.”35

Whatever the reason for Trump’s unscheduled visit to a military facility—and the secrecy, procedural idiosyncrasies, and apparent deceit that accompanied and followed it—it is clear that the need for the visit caught the White House by surprise. As reported by HuffPost, Trump’s past trips to Walter Reed were announced in advance via his daily schedule and were made using Marine One, the presidential helicopter; that Trump’s team not only eschews Marine One but does not even “arrange with local law enforcement to shut down the roads to traffic along the route to isolate the president’s limousine as much as possible” underscores that the decision to take the president to the nation’s foremost military hospital was a sudden one.36 The digital media outlet adds that the White House uses on-site doctors for “routine tests” and George Washington University Hospital for “serious medical issue[s],” so Trump and the “thick packet of papers” he took with him to Walter Reed apparently needed to go specifically to a military site.37 Whether Trump is carrying his own documents rather than handing them off to an aide because of classification markings on the materials is unknown; what is clear is that, unlike every other medical exam Trump undergoes during his presidency, following the president’s mysterious November 2019 visit to Walter Reed no briefing is given to the press by his doctors.38 Slate reports that not only were medical staff at Walter Reed “not given advance notice” that the president would be coming to the facility, but Trump’s visit was “followed by a multi-day absence from the public eye” the digital media outlet calls “highly unusual for a sitting president undergoing a routine checkup, which is what the White House claimed had prompted the visit.”39

While it is now widely known that the Trump White House received new military intelligence on a dangerous emerging virus sometime during the same three-week period in November 2019 Trump was suddenly rushed to a military hospital, less well known is that Trump was suffering medical symptoms at the time that might have—following his and his national security team’s apparent receipt of such intelligence—caused significant concern at the White House. According to the Washington Post, shortly before he went to Walter Reed Trump was, according to multiple eyewitnesses, “hoarse” and had “signs of a cold,” with a “subdued and raspy voice” that was manifest during a critical public appearance with Turkish president Recep Erdogan.40 As the Post reports, “A common cold would normally not be enough to prompt a visit to Walter Reed because the White House has adequate equipment and facilities to treat most minor illnesses and conduct routine tests. More comprehensive testing can be performed at Walter Reed.”41 The newspaper adds that “the White House Medical Unit has the ability to perform many medical procedures on-site, including most that can be done in outpatient settings.”42 The Post quotes renowned cardiologist Dr. John Sotos as remarking, “The most informative question to ask . . . [is] what is available at Walter Reed that is not available in the West Wing medical unit?”43 A partial answer to this question, according to a summary of comments by Dr. Peña to the Post, is that “because [Walter Reed] is a military base, it is more secure, and officials are better able to maintain privacy than at a hospital open to the public.”44 Business Insider notes that the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research—located four miles from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center—is now one of the Pentagon’s frontline operations “involved in conducting research on a possible coronavirus vaccine.”45

Suspicion that Trump has not been forthcoming about the reason for his trip to Walter Reed is heightened when he skips the January completion of his allegedly two-stage 2020 physical—a physical the president purportedly decided to begin on short notice, months early, and while suffering from a cold. Indeed, by mid-March 2020 Trump is still, according to the New York Times, being “vague about when he plans to complete his annual physical,” having told reporters in early March, “I’m so busy, I can’t do it”; NBC News reports that as late as the end of May, “Trump hasn’t completed his physical . . . [and] [t]he White House won’t say why.”46 On March 14, when what is represented as Trump’s first COVID-19 test comes back negative, the New York Times observes that “experts [have] noted . . . [Mr. Trump] has still never released any details on an unscheduled [November 2019] trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.”47

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