Trump Infection Puts Large Circle of White House Aides at Risk
October 2, 2020
(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump interacted or traveled with a large coterie of top aides and advisers in the days before he was diagnosed with Covid-19, raising the risk of a widespread outbreak within the White House.
The circle of close contacts with the infected president and his wife, Melania, begins with his adviser Hope Hicks, who fell ill on Wednesday night. She traveled with Trump to the presidential debate on Tuesday and to campaign stops in Minnesota on Wednesday.
She was seen in close quarters with several other officials, including White House senior adviser Stephen Miller and Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller.
Depending on how far the virus spreads through the halls of the West Wing and Congress, as well as the president’s campaign headquarters, much more than Trump’s travel schedule may be derailed. Face-to-face negotiations over another round of economic stimulus may be complicated, and the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett could be delayed.
It wasn’t immediately clear when or how the president was infected and how many other White House aides will be asked to quarantine due to contact with the Trumps or Hicks. The typical incubation period for the virus, or time between exposure and emergence of symptoms, is thought to be two to five days.
It is possible, if not likely, the president was infected before Wednesday, when Hicks started exhibiting signs of illness.
Ronny Jackson, the president’s former White House physician, told Fox News early Friday morning that the positive test would “affect everybody who has been around the president” as they would likely need to self-isolate. He cautioned that it’s not yet clear how widely the virus has circulated. Even though Hicks tested positive, “that doesn’t mean that’s the person he got it from,” Jackson told Fox.
“Contract tracing is being done and the appropriate notifications and recommendations will be made,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
Early Wednesday, Trump met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to discuss negotiations over a virus relief package, according to Mnuchin.
Later that day, Trump set off for Minnesota for a fundraiser and rally. Hicks was aboard Marine One, the presidential helicopter, when it departed the White House for Joint Base Andrews, where Air Force One lands.
Joining her on the helicopter, along with Trump, were the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kusner; social media director Dan Scavino; the president’s body man, Nick Luna; and adviser Stephen Miller.
Meadows and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany joined the president’s entourage on Air Force One. Meadows was seen chatting with Kushner on the tarmac in Minneapolis, and during the return flight, the chief of staff came back to the press cabin to speak with reporters.
On Tuesday, Meadows attended a meeting on Capitol Hill with Barrett and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone also participated. None of them was photographed wearing a mask during the meeting.
White House aides are rarely seen wearing masks or social distancing, as the president looks to spur on a recovery and downplay the risk of the virus.
The chief of staff has tested negative for the virus every day this week as part of routine testing for staff members in close proximity to the president, according to his top aide Ben Williamson.
Hicks tested negative for infection before the Minneapolis trip but began feeling ill while there; she was isolated on the flight back to Washington, according to people familiar with the matter. It is unclear precisely how other passengers aboard Air Force One were protected from infection.
McEnany conducted a combative briefing with reporters at the White House on Thursday, the same day Hicks tested positive. It isn’t clear if the press secretary knew by the time of her briefing — in which she did not wear a mask — that Hicks was sick.
Trump traveled again on Thursday to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, for a campaign fundraiser. Deere and the White House personnel chief, John McEntee, flew with Trump on Marine One to Joint Base Andrews.
Neither the White House nor the Trump campaign provided any information about who attended the fundraiser, which was held out of sight of reporters.
It’s not clear when Pence was last in Trump’s presence. After the Capitol Hill meeting on Tuesday, the vice president led a coronavirus task force meeting at the White House before traveling to Pennsylvania. His schedule didn’t list any joint events with Trump. He traveled on Wednesday and Thursday without Trump.
In a tweet early Friday, Pence wished Trump a swift recovery but said nothing about whether he would quarantine or if he had been tested for infection. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.
Some foes of Barrett’s nomination speculated on Twitter that she and the numerous Republican senators she has met with this week should also quarantine — delaying her confirmation — because she was in close proximity to Trump when he announced her nomination on Saturday.
Senators, however, have not yet weighed in.
Barrett’s confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin Oct. 12, with a Senate vote to put her on the court happening potentially a week before the election.
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