Do we trust Mark Meadows to tell the whole truth about this?
I trust that he’s telling the truth when he says Trump tested positive on September 26 last year, three days before the first debate with Biden. He has no reason to lie about that, knowing how annoyed his political patron will be by this revelation.
He’s already gone public with his annoyance:
NEW FROM 45:
“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.” pic.twitter.com/Casf4IjjgS
— Margo Martin (@margommartin) December 1, 2021
Maybe it’s true that Trump tested positive and then negative on a second test to confirm the initial result. Or maybe that negative test is a fiction invented by Meadows to explain why Trump would attend a debate knowing that he had COVID. The negative test justifies Trump’s decision to show up.
But does it really? There’s a key detail here:
Meadows says Trump’s positive result on 26 September was a shock to a White House which had just staged a triumphant Rose Garden ceremony for the supreme court nominee Amy Coney Barrett – an occasion now widely considered to have been a Covid super-spreader event.
Despite the president looking “a little tired” and suspecting a “slight cold”, Meadows says he was “content” that Trump travelled that evening to a rally in Middletown, Pennsylvania…
Meadows says the positive test had been done with an old model kit. He told Trump the test would be repeated with “the Binax system, and that we were hoping the first test was a false positive”.
After “a brief but tense wait”, Meadows called back with news of the negative test. He could “almost hear the collective ‘Thank God’ that echoed through the cabin”, he writes.
I assume “the Binax system” is a reference to Abbott’s COVID rapid antigen test, BinaxNOW. Rapid tests are speedy but they’re infamous for being less reliable than laboratory PCR tests. If the president had tested positive on an “old model kit” and the White House wanted to confirm that result, why on earth didn’t they give Trump a laboratory PCR test for maximum accuracy?
Maybe they feared he’d test positive again and would be forced to miss the debate, triggering a raft of acidic coverage about how a guy who never seemed to take COVID seriously enough had now let it sideline him before his showdown with Biden.
Epidemiologist Michael Mina thinks he knows why the Binax test turned up negative:
So when he immediately tested again with a rapid Ag test, it did not yet register positive because he was not YET infectious
Had he used a rapid test later that day or next day though, once he was becoming slightly infectious, he almost certainly would have been positive
— Michael Mina (@michaelmina_lab) December 1, 2021
Does that mean Trump didn’t bother getting tested so much as once between the negative result and the debate on the 29th? Meadows writes in his book that he noticed Trump hadn’t looked well that week, including on debate day: “His face, for the most part at least, had regained its usual light bronze hue, and the gravel in his voice was gone. But the dark circles under his eyes had deepened. As we walked into the venue around five o’clock in the evening, I could tell that he was moving more slowly than usual. He walked like he was carrying a little extra weight on his back.” It didn’t occur to Meadows that maybe it was time for another COVID test, huh?
Chris Wallace, the moderator of that debate, admitted that the candidates weren’t tested by the debate commission beforehand, leaving them to “the honor system” instead — a stupid posture to take with someone like Trump. Imagine if the commission had insisted on a rapid test an hour or so before it began and ended up having to break the news to the country in primetime that the president was positive.
How many people did Trump expose to the virus between the time he tested positive on the 26th and the time he tested positive again on October 2, a result that was ultimately confirmed by a second test? A lot, it seems:
9/26: Trump tests positive, per Meadows, but holds rally
9/27: Event w/ Gold Star families, who Trump later suggests might have infected *him*
9/28: Outdoor event with curiously distanced lecterns
9/30: MN fundraiser
10/1: NJ fundraiserhttps://t.co/iiz8qB8V0d
— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) December 1, 2021
So, military families, Trump staff, secret service, reporters, the current president, all subjected to being around someone who looked sick and did in fact test positive https://t.co/0AKYPE9RgW
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) December 1, 2021
I remember those curiously distanced lecterns. If the White House thought he was negative following his second test, why did they put Mike Pence at a separate podium from Trump 15 feet away in the Rose Garden that week?
Upon seeing the news this morning that Trump may have had COVID on the 26th, one reporter wondered if maybe he’d caught the virus from the president:
Hours after he received the call from Meadows informing him of a positive test, Trump came to the back of AF1 without a mask and talked with reporters for about 10 minutes. I was wearing a mask, but still got COVID, testing positive several days later. https://t.co/NJLINb6cLN
— Michael D. Shear (@shearm) December 1, 2021
Meadows claims in his book that after Trump tested negative on the Binax test Meadows told the entire staff to treat him as if he were positive and take appropriate precautions. Two sources disputed that to the NYT, though: “The two former officials who confirmed the positive test did not recall Mr. Meadows giving such a directive.” Hope Hicks ended up testing positive on October 1, days after Trump’s first positive test and around 24 hours before Trump’s COVID case was finally confirmed. It was long assumed that Hicks might have infected Trump, but the timeline in Meadows’s book suggests it was more likely the other way around. Trump was probably positive on September 26, recklessly continued with business as usual all week without submitting to a PCR test, and ended up infecting Hicks and God knows who else.
Either Meadows is lying or Trump is lying:
And I asked Trump, directly, about this when I interviewed him in Mar-a-Lago in March. Here's what he said:
JK: Some people say you first got — you got an initial positive test even before the debate. Is that true or is that not true?
DJT: No. No, that's not true. https://t.co/Y2QSeYhe1B
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) December 1, 2021
Or both could be lying about different details. As I say, we’re taking Meadows’s word for it that Trump ever actually tested negative on a Binax test.
I’ll leave you with this, something else I remember from that period. Trump’s White House doctor was awfully coy when asked whether the president knew he was positive before he exposed Joe Biden and various others at the debate.
REPORTER: Can you tell us when he had his last negative test?
CONLEY: I don’t want to go backwards. pic.twitter.com/9alawXwouj
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) October 5, 2020