A new book alleges that President Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 before a Sept. 27, 2020, event at the White House that honored families of fallen service members, potentially exposing them to the coronavirus.
The revelation, if accurate, contradicts what Trump insinuated at the time: that he may have gotten the virus from someone at that event.
Around 1 a.m. Oct. 2, Trump tweeted that he and then-first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the illness; Trump was hospitalized later that day at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
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After he recovered, Trump told Fox News that families at the event came "within an inch of my face sometimes" to share their stories of their lost loved ones.
"They want to hug me and they want to kiss me. And they do. And frankly, I'm not telling them to back up. I'm not doing it, but obviously it's a dangerous thing, I guess, if you go by the COVID thing," Trump said during an interview.
But former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wrote in his new book, “The Chief's Chief,” that Trump received a positive test Sept. 26, the day before the Gold Star Family event, following a Rose Garden ceremony to announce the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the bench.
Two unidentified former officials confirmed Meadow’s account to The New York Times.
That celebration was later called a super-spreader event for the number of people who tested positive for the virus after attending.
Meadows noted, though, that a second COVID-19 test given to Trump immediately afterward yielded negative results, according to the Guardian newspaper, which obtained a copy of the book.
Trump went on to attend a campaign rally in Middletown, Pennsylvania, that evening. He attended the Gold Star Family event the following day and held a press conference in the White House press room after that.
On Sept. 29, Trump participated in the first presidential debate of the 2020 election with then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
Meadows reported that the president looked "a little tired" and he suspected "a slight cold," according to the Guardian, but that he looked "slightly better" the day of the debate.
"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," noted the Guardian, quoting Meadows' writing.
Trump was not tested before the presidential debate because he arrived late for the event, according to Chris Wallace of Fox News, the debate’s moderator.
In a statement posted to his website Wednesday, Trump refuted the reported test results and timeline .
"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," Trump wrote.
Organizers for the Gold Star family event said no attendees contracted the virus following the gathering.
Timothy Davis, president and CEO of the Greatest Generations Foundation, said the organization was notified Oct. 1 that Trump had tested positive and all Gold Star family attendees were notified the next day.
"Considering it has been 12 days since the event, all Gold Star Family [members] are all doing well and exhibit no symptoms of COVID-19," Davis said in the statement to Military.com. "The Greatest Generations Foundation is in daily contact with the Gold Star Families and provides a daily update to the White House Office of Public Liaison on the health and wellness of our Gold Star Family attendees."
The event was heavily attended by military leaders, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and the top generals of each service branch.
Nearly all went into self-quarantine after the event.
Democrats excoriated Trump after his remarks on Fox News about the Gold Star families. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called for the White House to disclose when the president last tested negative for the illness.
"It is a very important question for our country, because now the president is saying that he probably got this from the Gold Star families," Pelosi said during her weekly press conference. "Can you believe that he would say such a thing?"
Alyssa Farah, the White House's spokeswoman at the time, said Trump was not blaming the military families.
"His point was merely that in the timeframe that he was potentially exposed, there were a number of different venues he'd been at and individuals he had interacted with that it could have come from -- and by no means are blaming anyone who was present," Farah said. "And we did take a lot of precautions for that event. So based on contact tracing, the data we have, we don't think it arose from that event.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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