BOSTON (CBS) – If he said it once, he said it a hundred times.
But now, the New York Times has uncovered a January 29 memo from one of the president’s top aides, economics adviser Peter Navarro, that did forecast the possibility of widespread infection, economic disruption and death here; “the highest-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing,” as the Times puts it.
In the memo, Navarro warned against treating this as just another form of seasonal flu, a claim that continued to be a staple of the president’s public comments for weeks afterward. While it’s not clear that Mr. Trump personally read the memo, it was reviewed by members of the National Security Council and aides to the White House chief of staff. As a measure of the memo’s impact, it called for an immediate ban on travel from China to the U.S., and the day after it was written, the president did impose a watered-down ban that still allowed thousands of travelers from China to enter the country.
And the memo was explicit about the extent of the risk, citing a “worst-case pandemic scenario. ”A second memo in late February was even more specific, citing the “increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1.2 million.”
By then, China and South Korea were already experiencing major outbreaks, the first death on American soil was less than a week away, and the country’s top public health experts were sounding the alarm.
So while it’s understandable that the president would want to cast the extent of the pandemic as an unpredictable surprise as justification for his continued downplaying of the problem into March, that repeated claim scores an F on our truth test – for false.