President Donald Trump appeared to place blame on Gold Star families for infecting him with Covid-19, Thursday, going a step further than previous comments speculating where he contracted the virus.
The White House held an event honoring Gold Star families indoors, in the East Room, with no social distancing and few masks on the evening of Sunday, September 27. That gathering came one day after a Supreme Court event in the Rose Garden, where multiple attendees have subsequently tested positive. And it came after months of blatant disregard for basic public health guidance inside the White House, ultimately putting West Wing and residence staff and the President himself in direct risk of catching the virus.
“I got a lot of things doing. And again, when I want to say hello to Gold Star families, what I – I’m not going to be in a basement saying, ‘Hey I can’t see you as you traveled in from California and all the different places.’ It’s OK,” Trump said Thursday morning during a call-in interview on Fox Business.
“And I think at some point I would – it’s a very – look, it’s a tiny, tiny it’s like a tiny little microscopic piece of dust. It gets into nose your mouth or your eye, frankly, or something else or you touch something. So, I understand, and then you get better,” he added.
The comments go further than Trump’s previous suggestion during an interview with Fox News after senior adviser Hope Hicks’ diagnosis that Hicks contracted the virus from a member of the military or law enforcement.
“It’s very, very hard when you are with people from the military or from law enforcement, and they come over to you and they want to hug you and they want to kiss you because we really have done a good job for them. And you get close and things happen,” Trump told Sean Hannity hours before his diagnosis was publicly disclosed.
There’s no way to say conclusively how Trump and others contracted the virus, and just because someone tested positive sooner than someone else does not mean they were responsible for the infection.
The White House placed a high reliance on unreliable rapid antigen tests, but has not put similar effort into rapid contact tracing to determine potential spread. Trump held numerous events actively shirking social distancing and mask wearing in the days, weeks and months before his infection, many of which were indoors. And hundreds of officials who were not in daily contact with the President, but regularly interact with key officials who were, were not regularly tested.
The White House has declined to provide a full list of attendees in the East Room, but CNN has reached out to some of the families and organizations known to be in attendance.
Timothy Davis, the president and CEO of the Greatest GENERATIONS Foundation, said in a statement that all Gold Star Family attendees were tested by the White House ahead of the event, and, like the Supreme Court event, all tested negative for coronavirus. The rapid antigen tests administered by the White House are known to deliver a high rate of false negatives.
“Considering it has been 12-days since the event, All Gold Star family are all doing well and exhibit no symptoms of Covid-19,” Davis said in the statement, adding that the group is providing a “daily update” to the White House Office of Public Liaison.
Though the White House has claimed all contact tracing is complete, New York Times White House correspondent and CNN contributor Michael Shear, who tested positive for the virus following direct interaction with White House officials, told CNN late Tuesday that there’s been no outreach by the White House to do contact tracing or to follow up on his condition. And at least one other White House official told CNN that they’ve also alerted officials that they have had direct contact with positive White House personnel, and received no guidance on how to proceed.
That Trump would place blame on Gold Star families says much about his general attitude toward the solemn club of military families who have lost a son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, father or mother.
During the 2016 election, Trump went after Khizr Khan, whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, died in Iraq in 2004, after Khan spoke out against Trump at the Democratic National Convention.
“Who wrote that? Did Hillary’s script writers write it?” Trump said in an interview at the time. “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard.”
Trump also repeatedly attacked Sen. John McCain, who, he said, was “not a war hero,” despite being captured in Vietnam and tortured as a prisoner of war.
Despite that, Trump has claimed to be a champion of the military, tweeting, “STRONGEST EVER MILITARY. VOTE!” from his hospital suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Monday.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Vivian Salama, Maegan Vazquez, and Jamie Crawford contributed to this report.