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Trump Was More Interested in Vaping Than the Coronavirus in Late January: Reports (UPDATED)

President Donald Trump was warned about the severity and potential calamity posed by the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in mid to late January by the White House’s top public health official, but the president reportedly wanted to talk about vaping instead.

According to a late Friday article by the Washington Post relying almost entirely on anonymous sources within the intelligence community and administration, several experts were apprised of the danger in early January but had a hard time getting through.

Per that report:

[Health and Human Services Secretary Alex] Azar couldn’t get through to Trump to speak with him about the virus until Jan. 18, according to two senior administration officials. When he reached Trump by phone, the president interjected to ask about vaping and when flavored vaping products would be back on the market, the senior administration officials said.

However, during a White House Coronavirus briefing on Saturday, Trump said the Washington Post report was a “very inaccurate story.”

“They write inaccurately abuot me every single day, every single hour,” Trump said about the Post (after congratulating the reporter who asked him to respond to the Post directly).  “It’s so insulting when they write phony stories,” he added, then explained that the “phony” report was also insulting to the Coronavirus task force members and experts who surounded him in the White House briefing room.  When asked later about when he learned about the seriousness of the Coronavirus, Trump said China should have notified him earlier about the extent of the issue, then added that “a two or three month diffence in time” would have helped America.  Trump said he learned of the virus around the time he started ordering closings.

Others reacted differently to the Washington Post report.

“Ugh,” tweeted Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig.

National security attorney Bradley P. Moss took the vaping news as evidence of a wide and cavernous well of neglect within the White House.

“It has become more and more clear that, outside of travel restrictions to China, mitigation efforts taken by the government over the last three months occurred in spite of, and not because of, the prerogatives of the president,” Moss told Law&Crime via email. “Instead of paying attention, the president was more focused on publicly downplaying the threat of the coming pandemic.”

Azar previously confirmed–during a White House briefing early Friday–that he and others were given deep and thorough assessments of the Coronavirus by other administration officials who conferred with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after discussions with their Chinese counterparts on January 3.

“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,” one anonymous U.S. official told the Post. “The system was blinking red.”

That same official said that intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January.”

By late January and early February, daily intelligence briefings prepared by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were consumed by Coronavirus and COVID-19 information, according to the outlet.

Again the Post‘s bombshell report:

Taken together, the reports and warnings painted an early picture of a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic that could require governments to take swift actions to contain it. But despite that constant flow of reporting, Trump continued publicly and privately to play down the threat the virus posed to Americans. Lawmakers, too, did not grapple with the virus in earnest until this month, as officials scrambled to keep citizens in their homes and hospitals braced for a surge in patients suffering from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

But some questioned the late game narrative as self-serving.

“Shorter: US spy agencies covering their asses. Again,” tweeted journalist Mark Ames. “If spy agencies were really so worried, they could’ve warned public via their countless media assets.”

As the blame game amid the national security state and the current administration sets in, what’s clear is that the public was kept in the dark–even as senators from both parties dumped stocks in what critics have alleged was an effort to profit off of the global pandemic and economic meltdown.

Those weeks of delay have resulted in crucial lost opportunities to combat the spread and infection rates of the deadly contagion–weeks during which the 45th president and his conservative media allies sought to downplay the severe disruptions caused by the Coronavirus–and those opportunities are not coming back.

The administration’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic only began in earnest earlier this week–with CDC guidance directing Americans to stay indoors if at all possible and to limit social gatherings in order to “stop the spread.”

[image via Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images]

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