Former President Donald Trump reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus three days before the first presidential debate with Joe Biden, according to an upcoming book from Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Trump tested positive on Sept. 26, 2020, three days before the Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland, reported The Guardian, which obtained a copy of Meadows’ memoir, “The Chief’s Chief,” to be published next week by conservative publisher All Seasons Press.
But Trump got a negative result from another test shortly after the positive one, Meadows writes in the book. The White House on Sept. 26 also held an event for Amy Coney Barrett, whom Trump had just nominated to the Supreme Court. The gathering was later considered a likely COVID-19 “superspreader” event.
Six days later, on Oct. 2, Trump announced he and first lady Melania Trump would begin quarantining after testing positive the previous night – the same day White House adviser Hope Hicks, who had been traveling with Trump, tested positive for the virus.
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In a statement Wednesday, Trump called Meadows’ claims “Fake News. In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate.”
Earlier this week, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection said Meadows was cooperating with the committee, possibly to fend off a contempt citation for defying the panel’s subpoena for documents and testimony.
The revelations in Meadow’s book will likely resurface concerns that Trump may have put now-President Biden and others at risk at the debate just two days before Trump’s announced positive result.
While the attendance rules for the debate required that everyone in the audience wear masks, many in Trump’s entourage refused. “Anyone in that conference hall, quite honestly, could have been exposed,” Susie Welty, a contact tracing expert and technical director of surveillance at the University of California-San Francisco, told USA TODAY in October 2020.
Meadows writes that even though he knew each candidate was required “to test negative for the virus within seventy two hours of the (debate’s) start time … Nothing was going to stop (Trump) from going out there,” The Guardian reported.
On Sept. 26, when Trump traveled to a rally in Middletown, Pennsylvania, the president looked “a little tired” and may have had a “slight cold,” writes Meadows, who was “content” with the decision to hold the rally.
But as the Marine One helicopter lifted off, White House physician Sean Conley called Meadows and said, “Stop the president from leaving. …He just tested positive for COVID.”
Meadows said it was too late to stop Trump, but when Trump was on Air Force One, Meadows told him: “Mr. President, I’ve got some bad news. You’ve tested positive for COVID-19.”
Trump’s reply, Meadows writes, “rhyme(d) with ‘Oh spit, you’ve gotta be trucking lidding me’.”
The first positive test had been done with an old model testing kit, Meadows writes, and a subsequent one was done using the BinaxNOW test. “We were hoping the first test was a false positive,” he writes.
With the negative test result, Trump went on “as if nothing had happened,” Meadows writes. But the chief of staff told “everyone in his immediate circle to treat him as if he was positive” throughout the Pennsylvania trip, he writes.
The day of the presidential debate, Trump looked “slightly” better, Meadows writes. “His face, for the most part at least, had regained its usual light bronze hue, and the gravel in his voice was gone,” he writes in the book. “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.”
Social distancing procedures were in place at the debate, and Trump and Biden did not shake hands. But there was plenty of bluster during the confrontational face-off. Trump constantly interrupted Biden during the debate, while Biden called the president a “clown” and said: “Will you shut up, man?”
Three days later, Trump would announce that he had COVID-19.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.