Former President Donald Trump is denying the claim by his former chief of staff that he tested positive for COVID-19 three days before his first debate with Joe Biden.
According to excerpts from a forthcoming book by Mark Meadows published by the Guardian on Wednesday, Trump tested positive on Sept. 26, 2020, ahead of the Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland, and appeared to be symptomatic. Meadows said Trump was tested again and received a negative result that time.
But Trump participated in the debate, and other events, despite allegedly knowing he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Nothing was going to stop him from going out there,” Meadows writes in the memoir, “The Chief’s Chief,” which will be published next week. The New York Times, citing two former administration officials, corroborated Meadows's account.
But the former president denied the claim.
“The story of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News,” Trump said in a statement. “In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House Wednesday, Biden was asked about the revelations, and whether he thought the former president had put him at risk.
"I don't think about the former president," Biden replied.
According to Meadows, he was informed of Trump’s positive test by Sean Conley, the then-White House doctor, while the president was en route to a rally in Pennsylvania.
Meadows relayed the news to Trump, who had called him from Air Force One.
“Oh s***, you’ve got to be f***ing kidding me,” Trump replied, according to Meadows.
The test, the former chief of staff writes, was conducted with “an old model kit.”
A second test — using the “Binax system” — was performed and came back negative, which, according to Meadows, Trump took as “full permission to press on as if nothing had happened.”
The next day, Sept. 27, Trump played golf in Virginia and appeared maskless alongside first lady Melania Trump at an event for Gold Star families.
Trump would later suggest that he contracted the virus through his interactions with those families.
“They come within an inch of my face sometimes and they want to hug me, they want to kiss me, and they do, and frankly, I’m not telling them to back up, I’m not doing it,” Trump said in an appearance on Fox Business on Oct. 7, 2020. “But it’s obviously dangerous.”
The White House announced that both Trump and the first lady tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 2. He was hospitalized later that day.
At a press briefing outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Conley refused to disclose when Trump had last tested negative, fueling speculation that the president was carrying the potentially deadly virus when he faced Biden in Cleveland.
Conley also downplayed the severity of Trump’s condition to reporters.
Minutes later, Meadows contradicted Conley about the president’s condition, telling reporters anonymously that Trump’s vital signs had struggled and that a full recovery was uncertain.
“We’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery,” Meadows said.
On Nov. 4, 2020, the day after Election Day, Meadows himself announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19.