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I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year / : (by Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker, 2021) -

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I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year /     :      (by Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker, 2021) -

I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year / : (by Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker, 2021) -

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I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year / : (by Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker, 2021) -
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2021
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Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker
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Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker, January LaVoy
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I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year / : :

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: I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year

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Authors Note W e never anticipated we would write a second book about Donald Trumps time in the White House. Our first, A Very Stable Genius, brought readers deep inside his chaotic and impulsive presidency. Our story ended as Trump was about to face impeachment for pressuring a foreign country to investigate his political rival, well into his third year. We expected his presidency would follow its established pattern and rhythms. Then came the year 2020. Trumps final year in office turned out to be by far his most consequential and, for many Americans, the most frightening. We felt compelled to pick up where we left off. Our minds raced with questions anew. We felt a responsibility, for history, to reveal what was happening behind the scenes as Trump stared down his first true crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, and chose to spawn another, the subversion of democracy, an act that led him to be the first U.S. president ever to be twice impeached. This book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 140 sources, including the seniormost Trump administration officials, career government officials, friends, and outside advisers to the forty-fifth president, as well as other witnesses to the events described herein. Some of our interviews with key figures extended for more than five hours in a single sitting as the sources recounted their experiences in meticulous detail. Most of the people we interviewed agreed to speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity, to share private accounts of moments that profoundly challenged or shook them, to protect their future careers, or to fend off retaliation from Trump or his allies. Many of them provided their accounts in a background capacity, meaning we were permitted to use the information they shared so long as we protected their identities and did not attribute details to them by name. A few of our sources agreed to speak on the record, including Trump, whom we interviewed for two and a half hours. We are objective journalists who seek to share the truth with the public. In this book, we aimed to provide the closest version of the truth that we could determine based on rigorous reporting. We carefully reconstructed scenes to present Trump unfiltered, showing him in action rather than telling readers what to think of him. These scenes were reconstructed based on firsthand accounts and, whenever possible, corroborated by multiple sources and buttressed by our review of calendars, diary entries, slideshow decks, internal memos, and other correspondence among principals. Dialogue cannot always be exact but is based here on peoples memories of events and, in some cases, contemporaneous notes taken by witnesses. In a few instances, sources disagreed substantively about the facts in an episode, and when necessary, we note that in the pages, recognizing that different narrators sometimes remember events differently. This book is an outgrowth of our reporting for The Washington Post. As such, some of the details in our narrative first appeared in stories we authored for the newspaper, some of them in collaboration with other colleagues. However, the overwhelming majority of the scenes, dialogue, and quotations are original to our book and based on the extensive reporting we conducted exclusively for this project. To reconstruct episodes that played out in public, we relied upon video of events, such as presidential speeches, many of which are archived on C-SPANs website. We also relied on contemporaneous news reports in the Post as well as in other publications. We have also drawn from the government record, including internal government reports and private email exchanges. In most instances we built upon the published record with our own original reporting. Material gleaned from such accounts is properly attributed, either with a direct reference in the chapter text or in the endnotes. Prologue O n January 20, 2017, Donald John Trump became president, unskilled in the machinery of government and unmoved morally by the calling of the position, but aglow in his unmatched power. The first three years of Trumps term revealed a presidency of one, in which the universal value was loyaltynot to the country, but to the president himself. Scandal, bluster, and uninhibited chaos reigned. Decisions were driven by a reflexive logic of self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. Delusions born of narcissism and insecurity overtook reality. In those early years, which we chronicled in our book A Very Stable Genius, Trumps advisers believed his ego and pride prevented him from making sound, well-informed judgments. His management style resembled a carnival ride, jerking this way and that, forcing senior government officials to thwart his inane and sometimes illegal ideas. Some of them concluded that the president was a long-term and immediate danger to the country that he had sworn an oath to protect, yet they took comfort that he had not had to steer the country through a true crisis. Trumps actions and words nevertheless had painful consequences. His assault on the rule of law degraded our democratic institutions and left Americans reasonably fearful they could no longer take for granted basic civil rights and untainted justice. His contempt for foreign alliances weakened Americas leadership in the world and empowered dictators and despots. His barbarous immigration enforcement ripped migrant children out of the arms of their families. His bigoted rhetoric emboldened white supremacists to step out of the shadows. But at least Trump had not been tested by a foreign military strike, an economic collapse, or a public health crisis. At least not until 2020. This book chronicles Trumps catastrophic fourth and final year as president. The year 2020 will be remembered in the American epoch as one of anguish and abject failure. The coronavirus pandemic killed more than half a million people in the United States and infected tens of millions more, the deadliest health crisis in a century. Though the administrations Operation Warp Speed helped produce vaccines in record time, its overall coronavirus response was mismanaged by the president and marred by ineptitude and backbiting. The virus was only one of the crises Trump confronted in 2020. The pandemic paralyzed the economy, plunging the nation into a recession during which low-wage workers, many of them minorities, suffered the most. The May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis ignited protests for racial justice and an end to police discrimination and brutality. Yet Trump sought to exploit the simmering divisions for personal political gain, quickly declaring himself your president of law and order and relentlessly pressuring Pentagon leaders to deploy active-duty troops against Black Lives Matter protesters. The worsening climate crisis, meanwhile, was almost entirely ignored by Trump, who earlier in his term had rolled back environmental regulations and withdrawn the United States from the Paris Agreement. The president was instead preoccupied with stoking doubts about the legitimacy of the election. After he lost to Joe Biden, Trump fanned the flames of conspiracies and howled about fraud that did not exist. His false claims of a rigged election inspired thousands of people to storm the Capitol in a violent and ultimately failed insurrection on January 6, 2021. The year 2020 tested the republic. Yet the institutions designed by the Founding Fathers were still standing by the time Trump left office. Americas democracy withstood the unrelenting assault of its president. Trumps cries summoned tens of thousands of angry citizens to Washington to overturn the election, but Vice President Mike Pence and scores of lawmakers followed their constitutional duties. There is a good news story here, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the military brass at the conclusion of Trumps presidency. Its the strength of the country. There is polarization. But at the end of the day, the country did stand tall. There was a peaceful transfer of power. There werent tanks in the streets. And the line bent, but it didnt break. Senator Mitt Romney, who often stood alone among fellow Republicans in his criticisms of Trump, said the presidents attacks on democratic institutions amounted to one of the greatest failings of any president. I think as we all recognize, democracy is more than taking a vote, Romney said. Weve had a number of countries take votes to quickly fall into disrepair from a democratic standpoint in part because they dont have the institutions that allow democracy to survive. Attacking the institutions here puts democracy itself in jeopardy, whether its our judicial system, our freedom of the press, our intelligence community, the FBIthese things underpin the strength of our democratic republic. So he attacked those along the way and then, as a final act, attacked election integrity itself. Those things have real consequences. The characteristics of Trumps leadership, blazingly evident through the first three years of his presidency, had deadly ramifications in his final year. He displayed his ignorance, his rash temper, his pettiness and pique, his malice and cruelty, his utter absence of empathy, his narcissism, his transgressive personality, his disloyalty, his sense of victimhood, his addiction to television, his suspicion and silencing of experts, and his deception and lies. Each trait thwarted the response of the worlds most powerful nation to a lethal threat. The last year you see what happens when you actually have erosion in the capacity of government to respond, when you have a president and appointees who dont take governing seriously and honestly dont know how to use it, said Margaret OMara, a professor of history at the University of Washington. Thats the great tragedy. It shows how fundamentally oblivious the president was to governing and the immense power for good at his disposal. Most of Trumps failings can be explained by a simple truth: He cared more about himself than the country. Whether managing the coronavirus or addressing racial unrest or reacting to his election defeat, Trump prioritized what he thought to be his political and personal interests over the common good. There come moments where you have to decide, am I going to do something thats purely in my own self-interest if it is contrary to the interests of the people I represent, one of Trumps advisers remarked. And in those moments, youve always got to pick the people you represent. The fact is that in 2020 Donald Trump put himself ahead of the country. When you do that as a leader, the people noticeand when they notice, they kick your ass out. Throughout his presidency, Trump cast himself as a long-suffering, tormented victim. He believed himself to be persecuted by what he called the deep state, a reference to any number of national security, intelligence, and law enforcement officials. Because some of these officials investigated his campaigns contacts with Russian operatives amid Russias effort to help Trump win in 2016, he saw them as enemies. He branded any investigation pertaining to his conductwhether it was Robert Muellers investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, probes into his finances, or an impeachment inquiry into his pressure on Ukraine to help him smear Bidena witch hunt. He also claimed the media were running a sophisticated disinformation operation to puncture his popularity. And he demanded apologies for criticisms and slights. Trumps incessant complaining ran counter to what had long been a core tenet of the Republican Party: personal responsibility. Yet Trumps strategy of self-victimization yoked him to his supporters, who similarly felt disrespected by elites in Washington and felt wronged by the fast-changing global economy. Trumps standard tool kit for getting out of troublebullying, bluster, and manipulationwas useless in managing the pandemic. He tried to cloak reality with happy talk. He promised cures that would never be realized. He floated dangerous and unproven treatments, such as injecting bleach into patients bodies. He muzzled experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci who challenged his shaky claims and became more popular than the president. He refused to lead by example and wear a mask. He picked feuds with health officials and state governors scrambling to respond to emergency outbreaks, striking out at those who didnt praise his haphazard response. Not only did he fail to keep Americans safe; he couldnt even keep himself safe. Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19 in October 2020, zapping his false air of invincibility. The coronavirus changed the world, altering how people worked, how families lived, and what constituted a community. These profound changes were accelerated by the recession and heightened by the tensions in the aftermath of Floyds killing. Trump, however, principally governed for a minority of the countryhis hard-core political supportersand chose neither to try to unite the nation nor to reimagine a postpandemic America. He egged on the anger and disaffection among many white people who felt economically threatened and culturally marginalized. He pitted groups of Americans against one another. He uttered racist phrases and used his immense social media platforms to spread messages of hate. He stoked fear and egged on violence. His view of America is provincial, its parochial, its sullied, its any other adjective that calls up a sense of narrowness and ugliness, said Eddie Glaude Jr., chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. In so many ways, Donald Trump represents the death rattle of an old America, and its loud and its violent. A senior government official who worked closely with the president drew a parallel between Trumps handling of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and Adolf Hitlers rise to power in Nazi Germany. People either singularly or in crowds are interested in personal survival and stability and safety, this official said. When you are experiencing confusion and chaos and things you cant quite make sense of, and you see this phenomena around you thats getting scarythe economy and COVID and losing your job and immigrants crossing the borderalong comes a guy who takes fuel, throws it on the fire, and makes you scared shitless. I will protect you. Thats what Hitler did to consolidate power in 1933. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker whose opposition to Trump was as resolute as any, twice presided over his impeachmentin 2019 for seeking help from Ukraine in his reelection, and in 2021 for instigating the Capitol insurrection. After he left office, she told us in an interview that she was grateful democracy had prevailed but feared another president might come along and pick up where Trump left off. We might get somebody of his ilk whos sane, and that would really be dangerous, because it could be somebody whos smart, whos strategic, and the rest, Pelosi said. This is a slob. He doesnt believe in science. He doesnt believe in governance. Hes a snake-oil salesman. And hes shrewd. Give him credit for his shrewdness. That shrewdness, coupled with shamelessness and unnatural political stamina, allowed Trump to deliver on many of his campaign promises. He pleased his conservative base by remaking the federal judiciary, including with three nominations to the Supreme Court; cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy; expanding the military; toughening border enforcement; and weakening the regulatory state. Trump also forged new bilateral trade agreements, negotiated peace accords in the Middle East, and won concessions from European allies he had argued were taking advantage of the United States. Trump nearly won a second term. More than 74 million people voted to reelect himthe second-highest vote total ever recorded, the highest being Bidens 81 million. Were it not for Bidens victories in a handful of swing states, Trump would have won the electoral college and secured four more years in office. It would be foolhardy then to dismiss his presidency as a failure and to turn the page on this period. Rather, we must try to understand what made him appealing to so many, and what that reveals about the country. Trump almost certainly would have achieved more had he governed effectively and nurtured a professional and productive work culture. Instead, he allowed his White House to become a nest of vipers, with senior officials often advancing their personal agendas and vendettas instead of a collective mission. It was by far the most toxic environment I could imagine working in, and Im not a fragile person, a senior White House official recalled. People were deeply cruel to each other. By his fourth year in office, Trump had surrounded himself as much as he could with enablers and loyal flatterers. Power in the West Wing consolidated around Jared Kushner, the presidents son-in-law and senior adviser, and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff who prioritized campaign politics and believed it was his duty to execute the presidents wishes. Where are the adults? one Cabinet secretary lamented. They are supposed to be in the White House advising the president. Thats a big part of the story of this administration. The people he has around him are putting things in his ears, but they arent giving him careful, thought-through advice. There are no adults. A few sturdy guardrails remained. Milley, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Attorney General Bill Barr were there when the president wanted to deploy the military to American cities. Barr, despite loyally looking out for the presidents interests at the Justice Department, also fended off some of his efforts to prosecute and punish his enemies. The leaders of federal health agencies prevented Trump from corrupting the coronavirus vaccine development by rushing approvals before Election Day. And then there was Pence, who certified Bidens electoral college victory, after four years of unflinching fealty to Trump. Even though almost everybody who worked with Trump ended up taking a lot of grief and having reputational risk as a result of it, there were a number of good people who tried to prevent the worst at the White House over the years, said a senior Republican lawmaker. Clowns in one camp and people genuinely trying to prevent the worst in the other camp. There were some heroes there. Good people at key moments taught him a lesson that the system is more important than anybody, including the president, this lawmaker added. These are conclusions drawn from our four years of reporting about Trumps presidency and reflect the experiences and opinions of many of the most senior principals who served in the final year of his administration. They divulged, some for the very first time, what they witnessed firsthand, to tell the truth about this extraordinary year for the benefit of history. As with A Very Stable Genius, the title of this book borrows Trumps own words. On July 21, 2016, when he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in Cleveland, Trump vowed, I alone can fix it. He offered himself to the forgotten men and women of America as their sole hope for redemption, and as a president, he was powered by solipsism. He governed to protect and promote himself. I alone can fix it was the tenet by which he led. What follows is the story of Trumps final year in office told from the inside. Some events have indelibly marked our nations collective memory; many behind-the-scenes episodes have never been reported until now. Some moments show perseverance and resilience; others expose cowardice and callousness. It is an attempt to make sense of a year of crisis, at the heart of which was a leadership vacuum. It is the story of how Trump stress-tested the republic, twisting the countrys institutions for personal gain and then pushing his followers too far. And it is the story of how voters, both fearful for their own futures and their country, finally discharged him. PART ONE One Deadly Distractions P resident Trump rang in 2020 at Mar-a-Lago, the landmark mansion in Palm Beach built nearly a century ago by Marjorie Merriweather Post, at his members-only social clubs annual New Years Eve gala. Arriving on the red carpet outside the ballroom doors at about 9:30 p.m., as a band could be heard performing Daft Punks Get Lucky, the tuxedo-clad president stopped to parry questions from a gaggle of reporters, with the first lady at his side. Militiamen earlier that day had attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and the United States held Iran responsible. Would Trump retaliate? This will not be a Benghazi, he said disdainfully, referring to the attack in 2012 on a U.S. consulate in Libya that had long dogged then secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Was he prepared for his upcoming Senate impeachment trial? Its a big fat hoax, Trump said dismissively. What about Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator with whom Trump had boasted of exchanging love letters, who over the holidays menacingly had warned of a Christmas present for the United States? I hope his Christmas present is a beautiful vase, Trump quipped, seeming to make light of the possibility of nuclear war, as Melania, silent and statuesque in shimmering gold sequins, broke into a momentary smile. Were going to have a great year, I predict, he said. I think its going to be a fantastic year. He added, Our country is really the talk of the world. Everybodys talking about it. O n that same day, December 31, 2019, a curious email landed in the inboxes of top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose Atlanta headquarters was lightly staffed over the holidays. It was a short alert from a small team of scientists at the CDCs outpost in Beijing about reports of a series of unexplained pneumonia-like cases in the interior Chinese port city of Wuhan. Few Americans had ever heard of Wuhan, though the city of eleven million on the Yangtze River served as a massive manufacturing and transportation hub, as well as the cultural and urban center for central China. Some dubbed it the Chicago of China. The scientists in the CDCs office in Beijing wrote that they were working to learn more about what was going on. For some CDC leaders, the email didnt set off flashing alarms. Yet Dr. Robert Redfield, the centers director, was concerned. A highly esteemed virologist and infectious disease physician with decades of research under his belt, Redfield was spending the holidays with his wife, their five grown children, and eleven grandchildren at a rented house in Deep Creek Lake in the mountains of western Maryland, near the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders. He was disturbed by the words unexplained pneumonia. This seems significant, Redfield told his chief of staff, Kyle McGowan. I need to know what they find. Redfield had worried about the possibility of a mystery virus like this for months. After joining the Trump administration in March 2018, the CDC director had visited Capitol Hill to meet with key lawmakers who authorized the centers budget or conducted oversight of its operations. Chatting with him about his twenty years as an army doctor and his work on HIV and AIDS, a few members of Congress had asked Redfield variations on the same question: What disease or public health threat keeps you up at night? Redfield had told them that he dreaded an infectious respiratory disease for which most humans had no immunity, probably some strain of bird flu that could quickly become a pandemic akin to the 1918 influenza, known as the Spanish flu. Little more than a year later, Redfield was confronted by that very possibility. From that moment on, Redfields relaxing family get-together, complete with matching Christmas-plaid pajamas for everyone, was hijacked. The man whose pajama top read Grandpa in thick lettering routinely had to leave the living room or the dining table to take work calls. The CDC leader directed his aides to give him and the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services a sitrepa situation reportthe next day. And he asked McGowan to set up a call as soon as possible with his counterpart in China, Dr. George Fu Gao, the director of Chinas Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That December 31 email was a critical red flag that the Chinese government was holding its cards close to the vest about a global public health threat. Following the 2003 SARS outbreak, the United States, China, and many other countries had agreed they would all participate in a global software system called ProMED, in which they were obliged to report the appearance of any new or unusual virus and send up a digital flare for all to see. But the CDC was learning of these strange illnesses in Wuhan not because of an official alert, but instead because at midnight on December 30, somewhere in Asia an anonymous doctor had uploaded to the hotline a report about emergency guidance for Wuhan hospitals that had leaked to a news outlet outside of China. The Chinese government had not officially shared the information itself. On January 1, 2020, the CDCs immunization and respiratory diseases staff and China team produced the sitrep with all the available intel on the Wuhan illness, as Redfield had requested. The next day, Redfield briefed a senior staffer on the National Security Council, who at the same time was managing the risk of Ebola outbreaks in Africa. On January 3, Redfield finally connected with Gao by phone. The Chinese virologist offered what seemed like calming news. Gao said the virus had originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that sold exotic game; officials believed the virus had jumped from an infected animal to a human. He said that regional health authorities and the Wuhan government appeared to have it contained and that there were a little more than two dozen cases. What about human-to-human transmission? Redfield asked. The issue of transmission was key, because a contagious virus would be much more difficult to control. We dont have any evidence of that, Gao said, explaining that the only consistent link among the patients was the market. Redfield was not entirely convinced about this, because in a few more conversations that day he heard Gao say that at least three of the cases involved patients whose family members were also infected. He found it hard to believe that a man, his wife, and their child had walked through the market and each been independently infected there. But, George, youve got three clusters, Redfield said. He told Gao he remained concerned there was human-to-human transmission. Redfield offered to send a team of twenty to thirty infectious disease experts from the CDC to Wuhan to help investigate the virus. Gao agreed that would be helpful and said he would get back to him about this offer. Redfield hung up, feeling more unsettled. First, he was surprised that Gao seemed to have only recently learned about this virus in Wuhan. He suspected that such a virus would surely have been circulating for some time, so how could the head of the Chinese CDC only know as much as Redfield had learned from reading unofficial media reports? I think theres something more here were not seeing, he told an aide. Redfield wasnt alone in his suspicions. Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the worlds leading immunologists, had tracked viral infections for nearly four decades as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He knew that the first outbreak of SARS had been traced to a fishmonger in Chinas Guangdong Province, but had soon spread human-to-human. The contagion transferred first to nurses and doctors treating the patient who had contracted it, then one of them traveled to Hong Kong and infected people there. Before long, people in twenty-nine countries were sick. Fauci was apprehensive about the Chinese explanation of the mysterious new virus transferring from animals to humans at a wet market. He also couldnt believe that everybody who contracted the disease was infected by an animal. A virus is unlikely to jump species so many times at a single wet market. Surely, Fauci thought, there must be human-to-human spread. Redfield talked to Gao several more times over the next several days, as much as two and three times a day. On one of those calls, Redfield asked Gao to explain the case definition that Wuhan officials were using to analyze the patients with suspicious pneumonia. Gao explained they were focusing on examining people with an unspecified respiratory infection who had contact with the market. Redfield warned Gao that by doing so, they could be missing a much larger problem. Youre making a mistake there, Redfield said. He urged them to look for pneumonia cases that had no link to the market. Redfield could tell Gao was getting increasingly uncomfortable with his questions. He sounded torn about sharing information. Gao started speaking in a stilted, formal way. This was not the good old George who had casually bantered a year earlier about their plans for visiting each others countries. Gao at times now sounded like a prisoner trying secretly to signal in some type of code. Redfield felt sure Chinese minders or spies were listening in on their calls, as they typically did, and wondered if that was the cause of Gaos awkwardness. The conversation became more uncomfortable when Redfield pressed Gao about his earlier offer to send a CDC team to investigate the virusa routine move given the expertise of Americas scientists. Gao said he couldnt extend the invitation and that Redfield should issue a formal request to the Chinese government. By the time they spoke again a day or two later, Gao sounded distraught. He reported that health officials had looked beyond the market as Redfield suggested and found many, many more cases of the virus with no link to that area or to purchases there. Hundreds of them. He broke down on the phone. We may be too late, Gao said. On January 6, Redfield wrote a formal request to the Chinese government on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services letterhead, asking for permission to send a CDC team to Wuhan. He never received a reply. U.S. officials would not fully realize for some time how much Chinese authorities were hiding. A full week before Redfields January 3 call with Gao, Chinese health authorities already had significant anecdotal evidence of human-to-human transmission. A Wuhan hospitals chief of respiratory diseases had reported to her superiors that she had nearly incontrovertible evidence on December 26. While examining two patients with very similar lung damage on their CT scans, she discovered they were wife and husband. Not long after, their son, who came to their apartment to help them while they were sick, also came down with the same symptoms. This was human-to-human transmission. A novel coronavirus. It was just as Redfield and Fauci had suspected. The nightmare the CDC director had been dreading was here. T rump, meanwhile, was preoccupied with a threat in the Middle East. In late December 2019, tensions with Iran, which had been simmering since 2018 when the president withdrew the United States from the nuclear agreement that President Barack Obama had previously brokered, had reached a boil. A rocket attack in Iraq by what U.S. authorities identified as an Iranian-backed militia had killed an American contractor. American intelligence agencies had learned that Irans top security and intelligence commander, Major General Qassim Soleimani, was orchestrating a broad campaign against American embassies, consulates, and personnel in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. The intelligence was, in the assessment of General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, compelling, imminent, and very, very clear in scale [and] scope. On December 29, Milley, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser Robert OBrien converged on Palm Beach to brief Trump on the intelligence and possible retaliatory measuresincluding killing Soleimani. As they gathered around a long table in a compact, secure room at Mar-a-Lago, Trump said he wanted to strike back somehow against Iran. He firmly believed that weakness would invite aggression. He went around the table asking each man what he counseled. Some warned that attacking Soleimani would be risky because Iran could respond by escalating even further. Trump had long said he wanted to avoid a war with Tehran, especially in 2020, when he stood for reelection. The last to weigh in was the presidents top military adviser, Milley, an undaunted, no-bones army four-star, who had seen ample combat after deploying in five U.S. wars and invasions. Mr. President, you will be held criminally negligible for the rest of your life if you dont do this, Milley said. American lives are at stake here. Were going to lose Americans if we dont take action right away. Acknowledging the risks, Milley told Trump, Theyre not going to just take it. Theyre going to react. Trump was not one for studying intelligence. He had a low tolerance for briefings of any kind, but he struck his advisers as unusually focused, even clinical, that day as they laid top-secret plans for taking out Soleimani. On December 31, a mob of Shiite militiamen and other Iranian sympathizers stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Trump brooded over video footage of smoke billowing from the embassy, with pro-Iranian demonstrators protesting outside. He wrote on Twitter that Iran would pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Trump had discussions over the subsequent days about the forthcoming operation, including receiving intelligence updates tracking Soleimanis whereabouts. In one such conversation, Keith Kellogg, a retired army lieutenant general who was close to the president and served as Vice President Mike Pences national security adviser, summed up the geostrategic imperative for both Trump and Pence. This is the guy that needs killing, Kellogg told them. Hes been fomenting the problems weve had in the Middle East. This guy is the lynchpin. Hes got American blood on his hands, and the civilized world wont miss him at all, Kellogg added. Speaking directly to Trump, he said, Look, sir, this is a win-win for you. Its going to make a pretty strong point. Theyre not going to stop screwing around with us until we do something dramatic. Some of Trumps advisers believed it would be difficult to kill Soleimani because he would be unlikely to leave Iran, given how tense the situation had become. But Soleimani had a history of traveling freely within the Middle East, and intelligence reports in early January indicated that Soleimani was preparing a trip. This arrogance will kill him, Kellogg told Trump and Pence. What are you talking about? Pence said. He will travel, Kellogg replied. Trust me. When Trump authorized the strike plan, he asked his advisers, Do you think we can get him? The president was assured they could. Okay, he said, lets do it. On January 3, Soleimani flew from Damascus to Baghdad, where he was to meet with Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. After the Iranian general got into a vehicle to drive away from Baghdad International Airport, a U.S. drone fired several missiles on the motorcade, killing Soleimani and nine others. Trump would later regale campaign donors at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser with a play-by-play account of watching the assassination from cameras that are miles in the sky, according to an audio recording of the January 17 event obtained by CNNs Kevin Liptak. Two minutes and eleven seconds to live, sir, Trump recalled military officials telling him as they narrated the silent footage. Theyre in the car. Theyre in the armored vehicle. Sir, they have approximately one minute to live, sir. Thirty seconds. Ten, nine, eight . . . Theyre gone, sir. Cutting off. Trump still spoke with awe about this feat more than a year later, when he sat down with us at Mar-a-Lago for an interview for this book. It was sort of an amazing thing, he said of killing Soleimani. Trump recalled a conversation with Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan. I was with Khan of Pakistan. A great athlete. Did you know he was the Mickey Mantle of cricket? He was a great athlete, handsome guy, and I met with him and he said to me, President, Ive been through a lot in my life. Ive been a star. Hes a big, big athletic star and very popular in Pakistan. He said, When Soleimani was taken out it was the single biggest thing I can ever remember happening in my life. It was typical of Trump to be an overly dramatic and indiscreet braggart. But he had reason to crow. Soleimani was the second successful assassination of a top terrorist target he had ordered in under three months. On October 26, 2019, U.S. forces had killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. During the al-Baghdadi raid by Delta Force operators, supported by a heroic dog (a Belgian Malinois named Conan), Milley narrated the black-and-white thermal video feed for the president in the White House Situation Room. Trump sat calmly as the operation unfolded, until he saw the explosions and Milley said, We got the guy. I n early January, U.S. intelligence agencies began including warnings about the novel coronavirus and updates about the contagions spread in the Presidents Daily Brief, a top-secret catalogue of the governments latest information about emerging security threats and conflicts around the globe. Yet Trump ignored the alerts. He rarely read his written PDB, and he would later claim that the coronavirus did not rise to his attention in those early days. But all around him, Trumps advisers were growing increasingly alarmed. Matthew Pottinger, the White Houses deputy national security adviser, had been monitoring Redfields reports but felt his first pang of worry shortly after January 10, while traveling for work to India and the United Kingdom. Pottinger had lived through the SARS outbreak, covering it from China as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, and he feared the Communist government would try to conceal key information about this new pathogenanything it considered potentially embarrassing to the nation. While on the road, he saw an article quoting a respected Chinese doctor he knew, who registered grave concern about the virus. Pottinger sent his staff an email: If this doctor is concerned, then Im concerned. He authorized Anthony Ruggiero, a director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense, to convene daily NSC meetings to provide the latest on the virus, starting January 14. At the CDC, meanwhile, officials were growing increasingly alarmed. That same day, on January 10, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, a Chinese lab that had a partnership with a Wuhan hospital, was the first to publish the genome sequence of the virus, using samples from Wuhan patients. The labs researchers uploaded the information into a publicly available website for medical investigators to share pathogen research and ideas. The genome data was a huge leap forward for the world health community for two reasons. First, it confirmed the virus was a novel coronavirus, a version of SARS, and very likely derived from bats. Second, it gave labs everywhere critical information they needed to start developing a test to detect the virus. A crucial way to prevent an outbreak was to identify those who had the virus and keep them isolated. But the release of the genome sequence gave a false impression that the Chinese were willing to share important and helpful information about the virus. In fact, several other labs that had confirmed the genomic sequence were blocked by the Chinese government from publishing information, and one of them was ordered not to discuss the virus with the media. After the Shanghai lab published its information online, government health officials were privately furious and, as punishment, temporarily shuttered the lab. In public, they would later point to the publication as proof of their scientists talent and dedication to sharing information. For Fauci, this was d?j? vu. He had learned during the SARS outbreak not to trust that the Chinese were necessarily sharing the full story. His red flag went up. Here we go again, he told associates. Lets keep an open mind about this. Fauci called the Virus Research Center to tell them to use the Chinese genome sequencing to begin developing a vaccine. Initially, Fauci and his boss, Dr. Francis Collins, the longtime director of the National Institutes of Health, were concerned this might have been a human-engineered virus that had gotten loose in China, either accidentally or, worse, intentionally. But after convening several experts on viral genome evolution to study that possibility, it was ruled out. Only nature could have designed this virus, they concluded. On January 12, the Chinese government formally shared the genomic sequence with the World Health Organization, which provided the optimistic assessment that there was no evidence of widespread transmission and that the outbreak was a small cluster that Chinese authorities appeared to have under control. But the very next day, January 13, Thailand reported a patient infected by the novel coronavirus, a woman from Wuhan but the first known case outside China. Redfield and Fauci both recognized the significance: The virus was no longer contained to Wuhan or the surrounding Hubei Province. It was spreading fast. Redfield got Gao on the phone and the Chinese CDC director confirmed what Redfield didnt really want to hear: Wuhan doctors were reporting that the disease appeared to transmit easily, based on the growing number of patients in the area. At this moment, Americas frontline defense against the virus known as COVID-19 was being led by Redfield and Fauci as well as Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services. Unbeknownst to this trio, the first patient with COVID-19 had entered the United States that very day. A Chicago woman in her sixties was traveling home from Wuhan after a trip to take care of her sick father there. She arrived at Chicagos OHare International Airport feeling fine, but within a few days would call her doctor complaining of strained breathing and was admitted to a local hospital. Days after that, her physicians realized she had also infected her husband. On January 14, Chinas top health minister privately warned provincial health officials that the virus was likely on its way to becoming a pandemic. In a secret teleconference, the minister urged nationwide screening for the illness and declared the public health peril so grave it required a Level One emergency response, the highest in China. The country had embarked on building the first of five new hospitals to handle the flood of cases. Furthermore, since late December Chinese health officials had been urging doctors and nurses to take extreme precautions, such as wearing personal protective equipment when treating patients infected with the virus and creating isolation wards in which to treat them. Yet, on the eve of announcing a major trade deal with the United States, the Chinese kept these fears and precautions hidden from the general public and even from the WHO. That same day the organization parroted Beijings insistence that the virus was not spreading from human to human. Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel Ncoronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in NWuhan, NChina, the WHO said on its official Twitter account. This was a lie of gross omission. But the timing of the lie was important for a Chinese government obsessed with reputation and public optics. And luckily for them, Trumps political goals played right into their hands. The next day, January 15, Trump hosted a signing ceremony with Chinese officials to execute the first phase of a trade deal between the two countries. Appearing in the grandeur of the East Room of the White House, adorned with rich gold drapery and three giant crystal chandeliers, Trump crowed about the accord for forty-eight minutes in a rambling monologue. Some attendees, including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, had to leave midspeech to get back to the Capitol for votes. Even the high-level Chinese delegation, confident they had outnegotiated the Americans, looked somewhat stiff and pained while waiting for the president to wrap up. I want to thank President Xi, who is watching as we speakand Ill be going over to China in the not-too-distant future to reciprocate. But I want to thank President Xi, a very, very good friend of mine, Trump told his assembled guests. According to the agreement, China would buy roughly $200 billion in U.S. goods, mostly agricultural, over two years in exchange for U.S. companies expanding access to Chinese markets and adding intellectual property protections. But experts doubted how much the deal benefited the United States, considering Trump had waged a trade war with China that damaged U.S. businesses and drove up the price of Chinese-manufactured appliances and other goods. Still, Trump had what he wanted: a deal that he could boast was great for America, signed at the dawn of his reelection year. About an hour after Trump finished speaking, a thirty-five-year-old man from Washington State arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on a commercial flight from China, returning home from a business trip to an area just outside Wuhan. He didnt know it at the time, but he was carrying the virus. A few days after getting home, the man would suffer severe flu-like symptoms and be taken to a hospital in Everett, a bedroom community of Seattle. He would become the second person known to enter the United States with this mystery respiratory disease. But the Trump administration would not learn about the mans case until five days after he had landed at Sea-Tac airport. O n January 16, Trump awoke in an especially foul mood. His impeachment trial was set to formally begin at the Capitol that day. He had been impeached a month earlier by the Democrat-controlled Houseonly the third president in history to receive that momentous rebukefor abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in soliciting help for his reelection campaign from the Ukrainian government. Now, he faced trial in the Senate. The upper chamber was controlled by Republicans, who complained the accusations were unfair and the impeachment a Democratic hit job, so his acquittal seemed a foregone conclusion, yet still the trial promised to be excruciating for the president. Shortly before noon, the seven Democratic House impeachment managers solemnly entered the Senate chamber to deliver their articles of impeachment. One of them, Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic House Intelligence Committee chairman and a favorite Trump foil, read out the articles in a formal, almost dour manner. Schiff explained that Trump had acted with corrupt motive when he pressured the newly elected president of Ukraine to announce an investigation of his leading Democratic challenger, former vice president Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden. Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court, who had also drawn Trumps wrath over the years, took the rostrum and was sworn in to preside over the trial, and senators took their oath swearing to do impartial justice and decide whether the president should be removed from office. Trump passed word to his aides to tell reporters he wasnt watching the proceedings because he was so busy with work in the Oval Office, yet the president seemed to know exactly what was transpiring in the Senate Chamber. That afternoon at 3:39 he tweeted, I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL! Later that day, a little after 5:00, Trump met with some of his campaign advisers. At the time, the Trump team thought Senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might be the Democratic nominee, and both were running on expanding health-care access as signature issues. The Trump campaigns data showed that voters trusted Democrats more than Republicans on health care, especially when it came to protecting coverage for those with preexisting conditions, and that the presidents plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act was unpopular. Trump also faced a polling deficit on the issue of prescription drug pricing. Tony Fabrizio, a longtime Republican pollster who worked on Trumps 2016 and 2020 campaigns, argued that health care would be top of mind to voters, especially in Florida and some other battleground states, and that if Trump could sign an executive order or otherwise enact policies protecting those with preexisting conditions he might fare better against the Democrats. Reminded that the White House counsels office was drafting some such orders, Trump lashed out. Yeah, like they work on everything else, Trump said. Theyre so fucking slow. Trump was already smarting that week over a series of ads Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor running for the Democratic presidential nomination, was airing, criticizing Trumps failure to produce a health-care plan despite his campaign promise to do so. The polling presentation sent him into a rageful fury. This vaping ban shit is hurting me, Trump said, referring to the administrations push led by Azar to ban flavors in e-cigarettes in the fall of 2019. Brad Parscale, Trumps campaign manager, spoke up to say he, too, believed the e-cigarette ban was suppressing Trumps support with voters who vape. Get me Azar on the phone! Trump cried out to his assistant. Once the health secretary was reached on his cell phone, the president tore into him, and put the line on speakerphone to make the campaign advisers listen in. Im losing on drug pricing, Trump told Azar. Im getting killed on drug pricing. The polling shows the Democrats are beating me on drug prices. Youve got to fix that. Mr. President, Azar responded, youre losing on drug pricing because youve done literally nothing on drug pricing. What do you mean? Trump asked. Literally everything Ive tried to do on cutting drug costs, you have killed it, Azar replied. The president then pivoted to e-cigarettes. I never should have done this vaping thing, Trump said. Im going to get fucked on this. You lost me the election, Alex, he continued. Everywhere I go, every rally I go to, they are holding signs: I vape. I vote. They told me you have hurt me in the polls. We should have left it alone. You should have let me leave it alone. I shouldnt have done any of that. As Trump bellowed, Azar thought he was living in a bad movie. Trump had picked this same fight with Azar nearly half a dozen times since rolling out the e-cigarette policy in September 2019. At the time Trump embraced the ban on flavors and told reporters that he and his wife had been antivaping advocates in part because their teenage son had become curious about vaping. The president acknowledged telling Barron, Dont vape! Dont vape! Thats how the first lady got involved, Trump said. Shes got a son . . . a beautiful young man, and she feels very, very strongly. But Trumps resolve melted away as soon as Parscale had told the president the vaping regulations could backfire with part of his political base. The day after the announcement, Azar was in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a visit related to the deadly Ebola outbreak when his cell phone rang. It was the president, and he was screaming. You have lost me the election! Trump yelled at the secretary. It was all about Azar pushing Trump to ban flavored e-cigarettes. Brad tells me Im going to lose the election now because the vapers are my core constituents and theyre not going to show up and vote! From his hotel room in Kinshasa, Azar tried to calm Trump down and explain that the ban on flavored e-cigarettes had a huge upside with voters, too. Every suburban mom thanks youyouve taken these horrific products out of the hands of their children, Azar said. I have won you the election! But Trump was not to be reasoned with. Its your fault if I lose, Alex! he yelled. From that moment on, Azar was solidly in the presidents doghouse. The January 16 conversation felt to Azar like a broken record. Azar once again tried to reason with his boss. Youve gotten praised in every editorial page in the country, he told Trump. You have parents thanking you for empowering them. You have teachers thanking you. These long-haired hippie vapers, if they voted for you before, arent going to switch sides now. Azar dismissed the people holding signs. These are professional protesters, paid by the vape industry, Mr. President, he said. Im sure your polling data will tell you that you are winning on vaping. Trump had had enough. Okay, Trump said. Goodbye. The call was over. Azars chief of staff, Brian Harrison, had been listening on another line. Once the president hung up and he and Azar were alone on the line, Harrison said, You really shouldnt speak to the president of the United States like that. Azar understood his point but disagreed, given the presidents modus operandi. Azar had long ago grown accustomed to gut punches from the president and he felt that Trump would respect him more if he punched back. Trump would call Azar unscheduled up to three times a day. Early in the morning or in the middle of the day or late at night, sometimes with a compliment but more often angry about something he saw on a cable news show. He would demand Azar fix it, whatever the problem might be. That night, Azar had an opportunity to give Trump a freebie on his favorite medium: television. The secretary had a prescheduled interview that would air at 11:00 p.m. on the Fox News Channel with host Shannon Bream. The appearance came on National Religious Freedom Day. Religious freedom was not typically a front-and-center issue for a U.S. health secretary, but it was for many Trump voters, so Azar touted Trumps commitment to protecting the freedom to pray in school. We have in President Trump the greatest protector of religious liberty who has ever sat in the Oval Office, Azar told Bream and her Fox viewers. B y mid-January, as the CDC began implementing public health screenings at a handful of major international airports, coronavirus was already silently pouring into the United States, carried by unwitting travelers. It was too late to stop the contagion. On the morning of Saturday, January 18, Azar rose early with a nagging concern. While health agencies and the NSC had been rapidly preparing for a potential pandemic, he hadnt had a deep conversation of any kind with Trump about the virus. He knew Trump was at Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, consumed with his impeachment trial. He figured it was doubtful the president knew much if anything about the virus. From his den at home in a Maryland suburb, Azar reached acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who was golfing at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, near Mar-a-Lago. Mick, weve got this novel coronavirus, Azar said. He described how it resembled its predecessors, SARS and MERS, and how this virus could quickly turn into a global threat. He explained the airport screenings and that the Chinese government had admitted to having forty-five cases, which almost certainly meant there were a lot more. Plus, there were reports the virus had already spilled into other Asian countries. Im very nervous about the president and whether you guys have educated him about this, Azar said. Mulvaney said nothing about briefing Trump on the virus. Mick, Ive gotta talk to the president, Azar said. Ive got to fill him in on this if you guys havent already. Several hours passed. At about 6:00 p.m., at Mulvaneys suggestion, Trump called Azar, who happened to be back in his den. The president immediately began laying into his health secretary on vaping. You should have left them alone! Trump said of the e-cigarette industry. Azar was burning out on the subject and cursed back. I won you the fucking election, he said. This is gold with suburban women, the people you most need. Trump didnt engage on that point, and instead issued instructions. You need to come up with a plan to quickly get those flavors back on the market, he said. Azar sighed, thinking how he could move the conversation to the virus, but the president started peppering Azar about something else. Hows our health-care plan? Trump said. Wheres the new plan to replace Obamacare? How about our lawsuit? Where the fuck are we, Alex? After Azar answered, Trump said he had to get going. No, no, Mr. President, Azar said hurriedly. He explained that he wanted to talk about the coronavirus that so far had sickened dozens of people that they knew of in Wuhan, and that the symptoms mimicked a lethal pneumonia and looked a lot like SARS. Whats a coronavirus? Trump asked. It can be really dangerous, Azar said. This could kill a lot of people. Its already in China. Azar gave the president a quick lesson on the SARS outbreak nearly two decades earlier and said this new virus could be just as bad and required vigilance. Were working to try to catch cases as people come into the country, but its a really big deal, Azar said. It is a potentially very serious health situation. Trump didnt ask any questions. He sounded peeved, said he needed to get off the phone, and hung up. The president had a party to get to, the Palm Beach Policemens and Firemens Ball, hosted at Mar-a-Lago. He put on his tuxedo, shook hands in the ballroom, and gave a special toast. Two Totally Under Control O n January 21, 2020, President Trump jetted off to the snow-capped Swiss Alps, where he addressed the World Economic Forum the next day. This was a pilgrimage to the Mecca of moneyed global elitesthe kind of people Trump had long resented for looking down on him and not taking him seriouslyto rub it in their faces that his America First agenda was bearing fruit. The unemployment rate had fallen, the stock markets were up, and Trump had a new trade deal with China to boot. Never mind that the coronavirus was fast spreading, or that China was still refusing to allow a team of U.S. scientists into Wuhan for an inspection, or that Matt Pottinger and Trumps top doctors feared China once again was trying to cover up an internal problem. Trump wished to project optimism. The last thing he wanted was to alarm Americans, which could depress the economy and sink his reelection chances. White House aides booked an interview for Trump in Davos with CNBCs Joe Kernen, hoping to give the president a forum to tout the economy. But the Squawk Box cohost asked about the virus, which was still only garnering modest mentions in national news. Kernen referenced the Washington State man having recently been declared the first confirmed U.S. case. Are there worries about a pandemic at this point? Kernen asked. No, not at all, Trump said. We have it totally under control. Its one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. Its going to be just fine. When Kernen asked whether he trusted China was sharing everything the U.S. government needed, Trump said he had no worries there either. I do. I do, he said. I have a great relationship with President Xi. We just signed probably the biggest deal ever made. It certainly has the potential to be the biggest deal ever made. And it was a very interesting period of time, but we got it done, and no, I do. I think the relationship is very, very good. Public health officials were aghast. The president had said the novel coronavirus was under control when they were learning new and worrisome things about it practically by the hour. Whats more, the phrase under control was a defined, scientific phrase meaning that the number of infections had been steadily reducing, essentially that the threat was petering out. The coronavirus was absolutely, definitively not under control. Francis Collins was also in Davos that day for meetings with other leading global infectious disease experts about the coronavirus. The NIH director represented the U.S. delegation in a meeting with Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, during which he sought to persuade the global institution to declare an international public health emergency. He was directly undercut by his boss, Trump. For Collins and his colleagues at the NIH, this was the beginning of the dramatic divergence between the scientific consensus and the presidents public statements. Alex Azar was shopping at a music store in Washingtons Tenleytown neighborhood when he connected by phone with Robert OBrien, who was flying back to Washington from Davos. Azar stepped outside into the cold for privacy to share his exasperation with the national security adviser. The president was pretty dismissive with me, Robert, Azar said. I can take that. But its really important that the president not be dismissive like he was on TV. This is a big deal. This is a really big problem. Azar had hoped OBrien would say something like Yeah, were on it, or Youre right. Ill tell him. As they spoke, Azar paced back and forth on the sidewalk, holding his phone to his ear with one hand and gesticulating with the other, scowling. Azar wasnt upset with OBrien but with the situation. He didnt feel the White House leadership was treating this threat seriously. T rump arrived back in Washington to face turf battles, which were flaring up in the West Wing and among the agencies. Distrust between the presidents political appointees and career health officials and other professionals was deepening. This was the consequence of him having spent three years molding the government in his own image. The White House had largely abandoned the pretense of following a methodical policy process to make decisions or crafting long-term strategic plans. The driving imperative for those at the top was to survive the daily news cycle by diagnosing every problem as a public relations crisis. Senior officials were on edge about their employment. This weakened the chain of command and risked paralyzing the administration at the very moment the machinery of government needed to be running at maximum tilt. Mick Mulvaney, who had been acting White House chief of staff for thirteen months, still had not shaken the acting from his title, which was interpreted fairly or not as an indicator the president lacked confidence in him. Azar, having angered Trump over e-cigarettes and delays in health-care reforms Trump had promised on the campaign trail, had alienated a slew of administration colleagues before the coronavirus hit and was seen as vulnerable. A lawyer who had recently run pharmaceutical giant Eli Lillys U.S. division, he was a longtime Republican with the r?sum? to match. Hed worked as a law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, on the Whitewater investigation embroiling the Clintons, and in the George W. Bush administration as both a deputy and general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services. As a big pharma executive, he had been a demanding taskmaster and was used to calling the shots. But now in government, his subordinates bristled at times at his C-suite manner. He rubbed the president the wrong way, too, with his detailed, laborious recitations on everything from legal precedent to vaccine clinical trials. Azar had a long-simmering rivalry with Joe Grogan, director of the White Houses Domestic Policy Council, dating from their disagreements over prescription drug pricing and other health-care policies. One of their colleagues described it as a big dick-swinging contest between them. Azar also had a feud going with Seema Verma, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services director, who reported to him, that grew so acrimonious and personally nasty that, by the end of 2019, it had required interventions from senior White House aides Kellyanne Conway, Chris Liddell, Mulvaney, and ultimately Trump himself. It was in this poisonous, disloyal atmosphere that the White House tried to mount a coronavirus response. While Trump and his entourage were in Davos, Grogan became increasingly worried by media reports about the coronavirus, as well as conversations he was having with Scott Gottlieb, a friend who had recently departed as Food and Drug Administration commissioner. The two men spoke early in the morning on January 19 and Gottlieb was stressed about the emerging threat. Until this point, the government response was largely being handled by Azar and the CDC and other agencies that reported to him, with relatively little White House involvement outside of the National Security Council. But after talking to Gottlieb, Grogan thought to himself, Oh, fuck. Im going to have to deal with this. On Monday, January 20, Grogan came to work and scheduled a series of meetings on the coronavirus to get himself and his team up to speed. The NSC had been having its own coronavirus meetings for at least a week, which meant health agency officials now had to brief dueling groups of White House aides. During one of Grogans first coronavirus meetings in the Roosevelt Room, aides discussed the CDCs recent discovery of the thirty-five-year-old man who had traveled home to Washington State from Wuhan, the first known case of the coronavirus in the United States. Hogan Gidley, the principal deputy press secretary, cornered Grogan with an urgent concern. This is gonna leak, Gidley said, worried about how news of a U.S. case might impact the president. Gidley wanted to make sure the White House got in front of the story so people wouldnt panic. I dont know what to tell you, Grogan replied. Weve got a goddamn U.S. case. It is going to get out. The CDC publicly announced the case a day later, on January 21. Azar was furious that Grogan was convening his own coronavirus meetings. In his January 22 call to OBrien, he unloaded on what he called the mayhem of the government response. He said experts at the CDC and FDA, whose leaders reported to Azar, risked burnout if they had to keep briefing multiple groups of White House officials. OBrien told Azar that he would task his deputy, Pottinger, to run coronavirus meetings so there would not be repetition, even though Mulvaney had already blessed Grogans lead role. On January 23, the day after the return of the Davos delegation, Mulvaney convened a meeting of White House aides in his office to get a handle on the coronavirus. Pottinger and Grogan were there, as well as Conway, legislative affairs director Eric Ueland, press secretary Stephanie Grisham, Gidley, and Keith Kellogg. There was growing apprehension about the political consequences of the virus. Video footage out of China was frighteningtrucks rolling through the streets of cities spraying fog, people wearing smocks and other protective gear around their bodies, deaths piling up. Imagine how voters might react if these images played out in America, too? This could cost us the election, Grogan said. Look, guys, one of the criticisms were getting on the left on Twitter is that we eviscerated the NSC because [former national security adviser John] Bolton shut down the global health security directorate, and that is true. Okay, Grogan, what do you want to do? Mulvaney asked. We need to bring a czar in, like Ron Klain was for Ebola, Grogan said, referring to the Obama administrations handling of the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015. We need somebody who can do media and project, Were in charge of it. It doesnt need to be a doctor. It needs to be somebody who has good communication skills and good political instincts. The group discussed an array of people who could be the face of the administrations response but found fault with all of them. Some thought Anthony Fauci, though a leading expert on infectious diseases, would look too old on television; Azar sounded too condescending; Robert Redfield came off as too much of a professor and lacked political chops. They considered the merits of luring Gottlieb back into the administration. But the idea of a coronavirus czar was tabled. And Mulvaney started to chair meetings on the crisis, a feeble attempt to unite the overlapping internal efforts. O n January 24, Azar met with Trump and updated the president on his departments coronavirus work. Hows China doing? Trump asked. They are being relatively transparent compared to SARS, Azar said. But its China, so you never know what you dont know. Azar continued: Theyve got to let the CDC in and theyve got to give us samples. Under WHO regulations, they are in violation because they havent done that. The president appeared to hear only the firstand most optimisticthing his health secretary had said. You know, Im going to send out a tweet praising them, Trump said out of nowhere. Praising China. Azar was speechless. Trump had been on a pro-China roll for weeks, so excited before and after signing the trade deal on January 15, which he felt was a huge plum for his reelection campaign. He made clear he didnt want to insult Chinese president Xi Jinping. Trump then yelled out for Dan Scavino, who sat in a small, windowless cubbyhole of an office just outside the Oval Office. Scavino was the director of social media, which meant he was one of the only people with access to Trumps vaunted Twitter account and often pecked out messages the boss dictated. Azars shoulders tightened. He knew what Trump was about to dodictate a tweet about China to Scavinoand wanted desperately to stop him. Mr. President, that is a big give to Xi, Azar said hurriedly. You should not do that lightly. His response is not going well. You endorsing him will shore up his power structure. This is not something you should do lightly. He stressed that they didnt know whether China was being transparent. But Trump waved his hand and said he would praise China anyhow. He signaled he was done with Azars briefing, and kept barking out for Scavino, who soon appeared at the door. Azar couldnt change Trumps mind, not at this pace. So he left the Oval and headed toward OBriens corner office. He found the national security adviser inside. Azar told OBrien about Trumps tweet plan and then blurted out, Youve got to tell the president he cant praise Xi. I cant get him to stop. He cant send this tweet. I cant convince him. And I cant take the phone out of his hands. The presidents next scheduled meeting was with Mike Pompeo. Azar hoped the two of them could convince Trump. The intervention was not to be, however. Trump tweeted: China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi! O n January 28, at around 7:30 a.m., Pottinger was driving himself to work at the White House when his cell phone rang with a callback he had been waiting for. On the other line was a doctor in China whom Pottinger knew well. Pottinger had been reaching out with increasing urgency to a list of old sources and friends in Asia from his time there as a journalist. Now he had one of those trusted contacts on the phone. The doctor told Pottinger the virus was spreading rapidly, already far beyond the province of Hubei. There were hundreds of cases traced to community spread. And there was something worse. This is wholly unlike SARS in 2003, the doctor said. It was spreading asymptomatically, the doctor noted, estimating that as many as half of Chinas cases at that point had been spread by people without symptoms. This isnt SARS 2003, the doctor said. This is 1918. The Spanish flu had infected roughly a third of the worlds population over two years and was estimated to have killed at least fifty million people. Pottinger thought, Okay, this is scaring the shit out of me. He then shared this new information with OBrien, who suggested Pottinger join him at Trumps regular intelligence briefing later that morning. The two men, CIA briefer Beth Sanner, Mulvaney, and several other senior officials gathered in the Oval sometime around 11:30, with OBrien and Sanner taking chairs in front of the Resolute Desk and Pottinger sitting on a sofa just behind them. Sanner began going through a long list of hot topics, then eventually turned to the coronavirus in China. The president interjected. What do you think of this thing? he asked OBrien. OBrien said the NSC saw evidence that the virus was becoming very serious. This is going to be the most severe national security threat of your presidency, OBrien said. Sanner then recited the available facts, none of them terribly alarming. New stats on the infection spread in China. The status of the Chinese governments travel bans in and out of Wuhan. Is this going to be worse than the 2003 outbreak of SARS? Trump asked. Sanner said it wasnt clear at this point. OBrien suggested Pottinger add a few new things he had learned. The deputy national security adviser, a Marine by training, stood up from his sofa seat. Mr. President, I want to convey some things I just learned because I think its important, Pottinger said. This thing is spreading asymptomatically. This is going to be more akin to the 1918 flu outbreak. Noting that he agreed with OBrien about the seriousness of the threat, Pottinger explained that if people without symptoms were spreading the infection, it would be harder to identify those who were infected. Without symptoms, they wouldnt be able to isolate and control the contagion, as they had done with SARS. You cant do temperature checks and expect to find this thing, so its really going to be much more challenging, Pottinger said. And he warned the president that the Chinese government was not being transparent about these worrisome facts. Do you think I should shut off travel from China? Trump asked. This was a topic that OBrien and Pottinger had been preliminarily discussing following the Wuhan lockdown. Both advisers told the president he should restrict travel from China. I think we should, because its clear to me they are not being forthcoming, Pottinger said, referring to Chinese government officials. Im getting much more detailed information from personal phone calls than the entire global health establishment is getting. Trump did not commit to a decision, and Sanner moved along to the next topic. In a forty-five-minute discussion of a globe full of problems, they devoted roughly ten minutes to talking about the virus. The meeting ended and the presidents advisers dispersed. As they were walking out the door, Mulvaney turned to Pottinger with a stern face. At this point a skeptic of the virus morphing into a domestic crisis, Mulvaney was irate that Pottinger had raised reports from a single contact to effectively scare the president into taking action. That was totally inappropriate, the acting chief of staff told Pottinger. You wont come to another one of these. D ownstairs in the Situation Room, Mulvaney gathered some members of the fledgling coronavirus task force. The topic turned to the idea of restricting travel from China into the United States, as a bulwark against the virus spreading in America. This would be a severe course of action. Various advisers highlighted the risks in doing so, including choking off commerce between the worlds two largest economies. Fauci raised other concerns: Historically, travel bans have not worked to contain infectious diseases, and it would not be feasible to restrict travel worldwide. As Fauci spoke, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro was incredulous. Navarro was a Trump World original, having advised then candidate Trump during the 2016 campaign, and had fashioned himself as the ultimate loyalist, earning a reputation as a sycophant. He was also an ideologue, advocating an isolationist approach to foreign policy and an adversarial posture toward China. Navarro titled his two books on that subject The Coming China Wars and Death by China. This was the first time Navarro had met Fauci, who had been widely respected through Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Looking across the table at Fauci, however, Navarro thought to himself, Thats the most arrogant, dumb guy Ive ever metjust full of himself, just absolutely full of himself, like his excrement didnt stink and he was God. Navarro had found his antagonistthe archrival he would plot to undermine and cut down at every turn. Navarro went home the night of January 28 determined to convince Fauci and other task-force members of the imperative of restricting travel. Late that night, the first in a series of charter flights to repatriate Americans from China touched down in Anchorage for fuel and an infection check. Its 201 passengersstaffers from the U.S. consulate in Wuhan and other private citizens based therewere among 800 people the State Department was seeking to evacuate as soon as possible. After the passengers were screened twice for possible infection in Alaska, the plane continued to its destination: March Air Reserve Base outside Riverside, California. There, they were supposed to stay in special barracks until health officials could be sure they wouldnt infect the general public. The next day, January 29, Navarro submitted a memorandum to the NSC and coronavirus task force advocating for swift containment and mitigation measures and noting that the most readily available option was to issue a travel ban to and from the source of the outbreak, China. He presented his case using game theory. Navarro calculated that the cost of stopping travel from China to the United States for one month would be approximately $2.9 billion, and if the virus became like a seasonal flu outbreak or was contained, travel would be able to resume after that. But he calculated that the economic costs of a pandemic without any containment measures would be catastrophically higher, $3.8 trillion. By the time some task-force members read Navarros memo, however, they had already come around to the presumption that Trump would restrict travel from China, considering both how quickly the virus was spreading there and the extraordinary steps the Chinese government itself was taking to try to contain it and to treat the infected. China was officially reporting some 6,000 cases of the virus and 132 deaths, but U.S. officials reasoned the actual toll was considerably higher. A t sixty-eight, Redfield had toiled for four decades as an army doctor, virologist, and university lab director before taking the CDC job. He figured he should be retired and relaxing with his wife and grandchildren. Yet here he was, in the fourth iteration of his public health career, and a worldwide health catastrophe was occurring on his watch. Since Redfields first call in early January with George Gao, the disturbing events came at him nonstop. He was terribly sleep-deprived. His wife kept waking up in their Baltimore home to find him at 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. in dark rooms talking on the phone with people in faraway time zones, such as CDC scientists in China, WHO officials in Europe, or public health officials in California or Washington State. The morning of January 30, Redfield felt like everything was starting to explode. Illinois officials had contacted the CDC the previous night to report the husband of the Chicago-area woman in her sixties was now also infected. He became the sixth U.S. case. This was irrefutable evidence that the infection spread from human to human. Then Redfields staff alerted him to a seventh U.S. case. The double whammy solidified Redfields resolve about something he initially had resisted: restricting travel from China. Like Navarro, OBrien and Pottinger had been pushing for the travel ban for several days. They strongly believed that China had been consistently misleading the United States about how badly the virus was spreading, even beyond Chinas border. Redfield, like Fauci, was not initially in favor of shutting down borders and announcing travel bans, which they believed could cause panic while doing little to stop diseases from spreading. The public health mantra to stop the spread was to identify the infected, trace their contacts, and isolate the exposed. Now, though, Redfield felt this virus was galloping past them and decided the ban was critical. Fauci concluded the same. They spoke to Azar during a previously scheduled meeting around 11:00 a.m. that day to let him know they had changed their minds. Azar was quickly on board, too. Azars wife, Jennifer, had been asking him about this issue recently. This is going on in China, she said. Why are we letting people come in from China? Azar thought that was a good question. Trump had no idea about the anxiety building among his experts. He departed the White House at about 1:15 p.m. to fly west for a pair of campaign rallies later that day in Michigan and Iowa. But his White House operation kept humming along. Mulvaney had a deputies meeting on coronavirus at 3:00, in the small Situation Room. A possible China travel ban wasnt on the agenda, but given the urgency Azar was getting from Redfield and Fauci, he told Mulvaney they needed to make it the central topic. The group discussed the new cases and the evidence of human-to-human transmission. Then they discussed implementation of the 212(f)their shorthand for the proposed travel restriction, referring to the section of the statute spelling out the presidents authority to ban entry to the country in times of danger or crisis. They also agreed to endorse the State Departments plan to fly four more evacuation flights of Americans out of Wuhan and surrounding areas. Nearly everyone agreed both the ban and the repatriation flights were no-brainers. Mulvaney told the team they would gather to present the recommendation to the president the next day. As the meeting wrapped, Mulvaney asked Azar to walk with him to his office upstairs so they could call the president, who was aboard Air Force One, to get his buy-in on evacuating the additional Americans. Mulvaney stood near his standing desk by the fireplace in his office, with Azar hovering, and got Trump on the line. Mulvaneys national security aide, Rob Blair, and legal adviser, Mike Williams, sat on nearby couches, while Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun was connected by the White House operator. Mr. President, weve got something that Biegun and Azar need to run by you, Mulvaney said. Biegun opened with what he and the group thought would be a basic overview of the effort to bring home diplomats and permanent residents, as well as protections to ensure the evacuated Americans didnt spread the virus after returning. The president wanted to know how many people. Biegun estimated it would be several hundred right away, and eventually could be a couple of thousand. Trump exploded. Were not letting them come back, he said. You risk increasing my numbers. You wont increase my numbers. Trump didnt want sick Americans landing on U.S. soil, even if they were working for the State Department, or else the government would have to report a rise in infections, and that would make the publicthe votersnervous. The president was always thinking about the political ramifications for himself, even during a crisis. Biegun and Azar explained the measures under way to screen and isolate the passengers who had already landed in California. The first flight was a mistake, Trump said. Those people shouldnt have been in China in the first place. Azar and Mulvaney exchanged a look. The president was talking about Americans who had gone to China to serve the U.S. government as if they had irresponsibly or illegally crossed into a foreign country. Biegun compared their situation in Wuhan to a war zone. United States government employees deserved protection and services that could not reliably be provided to them in a city where the virus had overrun hospital wards and created a true emergency. It would be like leaving a man on the field of battle, Biegun added. Azar urged the president to consider his mantra of placing Americaand thus Americansfirst. This would be contrary to your brand of protecting Americans, Mr. President, he said. OBrien walked into Mulvaneys office midconversation. Trump said he thought doing so amounted to a dangerous risk. But Biegun and Azar stuck to their guns. They appealed to Trumps media instincts, telling him it would look horrible not to bring Americans home when there was a relatively safe way to do so. Trump gradually eased back, and by the end of the call he described himself as supporting the flights. The president said there was no other choice. Then he hung up. In the coming weeks, Trump would fully embrace the repatriation of Americans after hearing the first-person accounts of some of the early evacuees. All right, Mulvaney said, turning to the group. The president approved the flights. Azar warned Mulvaney he wasnt sure the president was entirely on board. After his painful e-cigarette experience with Trump, Azar wondered who the president would blame for this later down the road. Mick, the president is not at rest on the issue, he said. Azar took the opportunity of this smaller meeting with the acting chief of staff to complain, as he regularly had, about a string of damaging leaks about him in media reports, and pointed to Grogan as the culprit. This has got to stop, Azar said. Im literally here working nonstop with the White House. Hes your guy, and hes leaking every day and making crap up. You dont know who did it, Mulvaney said. Everyone leaks here. He added, You just have to put up with it. T hat same day, the WHO, which had been deferential to China and slow to hit the panic button, finally declared the coronavirus a global health emergency. But at an event that day in Warren, Michigan, Trump told a roaring rally crowd that they had nothing to worry about. We think we have it very well under control, he said. We have very little problem in this country at this momentfiveand those people are all recuperating successfully. Joining Trump at the rally was the vice president, who had been notably disengaged from the coronavirus response to date. Pence had been represented in task-force meetings by Olivia Troye, a career national security professional who was serving as his homeland security adviser. But Troye sometimes had difficulty getting through to Pence and his chief of staff, Marc Short, with virus updates. Such was the case the night of January 30. Aware that a presidential decision was imminent about restricting travel from China, Troye called Short several times to try to brief him and the vice president on the matter, but he didnt pick up. He and Pence were preoccupied with the rally and preparing remarks for an anti-human-trafficking event scheduled the next day. Troye sent a memo to Air Force Two outlining the travel decision but received no acknowledgment that Pence or Short had read it. T he next day, January 31, Mulvaney summoned everyone to the Oval Office. The doctors. The economists. The national security chiefs. The vice president. Though Trump was leaning toward it, Mulvaney wanted him to hear from all his advisers before officially deciding about travel from China. When the Oval session was hastily added to Pences calendar, Short called Troye and asked her to rush to the vice presidents office right away to brief him on this. She was irritated because she had been trying to get their attention the day before, and now suddenly everyone was scrambling. But she was ready. She was given five minutes to lay out the facts for the vice president and Short, as well as Kellogg, who was in the room. Pence and Short asked her what she expected in the Oval when the travel ban came up. I think you should expect to implement this, Troye said. Short rolled his eyes and scoffed at her. Can you believe this? he said, looking at Pence. Theres no way, Pence said. As they hurried toward the Oval, Kellogg said to Troye, Youre doing your job, and youre doing it well. Youre nailing it, kid. Once the meeting began, Redfield did a lot of the talking. He told the president that he would be failing in his job as CDC director to protect the American publics health if they didnt block flights coming from China. This pathogen is transmissible human-to-human, its clear its now starting to leak out of China, and we need to shut down air travel from China, Redfield said. Its obviously spreading quickly. Trump had questions. What did they know about the virus so far? How many cases did they trace to China? How quickly was it spreading? Speaking in neutral scientific terms, Redfield warned that the same ghoulish scenes playing out in China soon could replay in American cities. The NSC had some intelligence that also indicated bodies were literally piling up in hospitals and morgues in Wuhan. Reports flagged that the Chinese government was in the process of building or repurposing buildings to create five new hospitals. Later intelligence would confirm reports that state crematoriums in the region were working round the clock in late January, at a rate of six times the incineration they had done before the virus. The evidence we have right now is that the virus in Wuhan is having significant mortality, Redfield told Trump. At the time, they estimated eight out of every one hundred people infected in Wuhan would end up dead in a few weeks. Even those who recovered needed long stays in the hospital, filling intensive care wards. It is totally overwhelming their health system, bringing their health system to its knees, he said. OBrien and Pottinger chimed in that Wuhan had just effectively quarantined eleven million people, shutting down travel in and out of the entire Hubei province surrounding the city. The top national security aides told the president a reaction this substantial reasonably cleared the path for terminating travel from China. As many as fourteen thousand people a day were traveling from China to the United States. The problem is, Mr. President, theyre still flying the planes out of Wuhan, and we need to shut those planes down, so they at least dont land in America, Redfield said. Trump would later say he alone pushed for the China ban and claimed that in so doing he had protected millions of Americans from death. But in the decision meeting, almost all of the presidents advisers were on board with restricting travel, including Mulvaney. Tomas Philipson, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, was a rare voice of opposition, warning the ban on travel from a major economic partner would take a huge financial toll and calling it an overreaction. And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin raised similar concerns, arguing that restricting travel would violate free-market principles. Conway, a pollster by trade who was a specialist in political messaging and had worked on the administrations response to the opioid epidemic, did not oppose the restrictions but offered a note of caution about how it might reverberate with Trumps core supporters. I wanted you to be tougher on China from the get-go, she told the president. So how are we going to tell moms all over the country that we never stood up to China when they were pouring fentanyl into our communities, our kids veins, and our coworkers, but were doing it now? The president was listening intently, and in a departure from the norm, sticking to the subject at hand. He made a decision in just twenty minutes. Flights would be suspended from China to the United States. Pence, who was just getting up to speed on the issue, supported Trumps decision. Yet Trump wasnt excited to announce the order himself. He didnt explain why, but some advisers in the room believed that the president making this statement could make a big splash and he didnt want to spook the stock markets. Alex, you go out and you announce it, Trump said to Azar. As Azar later told aides, he was immediately suspicious. Trump was not normally shy about grabbing a chance at the lectern. He suspected the president wanted to see how this would be received politically and in the markets. If this doesnt play well, Azar later told an aide, he will hang me out to dry. Azar went to the Roosevelt Room to prepare an announcement. His staff hustled to draft his remarks. Total scramble, one aide recalled. Par for the course in the Trump administration. It seemed odd to Azars team of aides that no one from the White House press shop weighed in on his speech. When Azar signed the formal declaration of a public health emergency before his news conference, his chief of staff, Brian Harrison, took a picture with his personal cell phone. Azar stepped under the bright lights of the White House press briefing room before a hastily assembled press corps to announce that travel from China would be banned effective 5:00 p.m. on February 2. He said American residents returning from China would have to be screened prior to entry and quarantine in their homes for two weeks after returning. And he declared that the coronavirus constituted a public health emergency in the United States. Before the markets closed for the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell a whopping six hundred points, an overall market loss of 2 percent. The markets would bounce up and down over the next few days in reaction to the travel restrictions. This was only a preview of what was still to come. Redfield and Fauci had been alarmed in recent days about a few reports of asymptomatic transmission in Germany and elsewhere. But because the CDC still hadnt received a virus specimen from the Chinese nor been permitted to send a team there to investigate, they were somewhat in the dark in late January, thinking this virus was similar to SARS, which wasin the maineasy to spot based on obvious symptoms. Three Seeking Revenge T he first week of February 2020 was one of triumph for President Trump. On February 2, he boasted in an interview, which aired during the Super Bowl, that the coronavirus was nothing to worry about thanks to his new travel restrictions. We pretty much shut it down coming in from China. Trumps reelection campaign also spent $10 million to buy sixty seconds worth of advertising during the 49ers-Chiefs gamea political muscle flex intended to signal the presidents financial dominance, but that many veteran operatives considered a colossal waste of money surely designed to satisfy the presidents supersized ego rather than win a campaign. Two days later, Trump strode into the House Chamber to deliver his annual State of the Union address, a speech complete with dramatic reveals and live spectacles befitting a former reality television producer president. He interrupted his address to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nations highest civilian honor, to an emotional Rush Limbaugh, the controversial and highly partisan conservative radio host. But the weeks exclamation point came the day after, February 5, when the Senate voted not to convict Trump in his impeachment trial. As had been broadly expected, Democrats fell short of the two-thirds majority required to remove Trump from office, as the Republican-controlled chamber voted 5248 to clear Trump of the abuse-of-power allegation and 5347 to acquit him of obstructing justice related to his attempts to pressure Ukraine. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah was the lone Republican who voted to convict the president on the first article, but Romney also acquitted him on the second. Trump celebrated his VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax, as he put it on Twitter. The morning after the Senate vote, Trump sat in his private dining room off the Oval Office with copies of that days New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers. They all had banner headlines with some variation of Trumps acquitted. The president was giddy with delight. Look at all these headlines, he told aides. Ive never had press coverage like this. This is amazing! I should be impeached more often. The excitement did not come without a cost. Not only had the three-week impeachment trial distracted the president and his top aides from focusing on the coronavirus threat, but it also sowed dissent inside the West Wing. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Mick Mulvaney had been waging war internally and were barely on speaking terms, owing in part to Cipollones shock and frustration at Mulvaneys public admission in October 2019 of a presidential quid pro quo. The extreme distrust between Trump loyalists and the career professionals who they derisively referred to as members of the deep statea group that included Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and other officials who had testified about Trumps conduct with Ukraine in the impeachment inquirywas also incapacitating the administration. Olivia Troye was also considered part of that group of career officials. She had been a career intelligence officer at the Department of Homeland Security when she was asked early in the Trump administration to transfer to the White House and work for Vice President Pence. When Keith Kellogg interviewed her for the job, he asked, Why do you want to work here? Troye responded, Because I want to serve my country and I want to make a difference. But in early February, as Troye was logging long hours trying to stay on top of an emerging public health calamity, she was being mocked by some colleagues on the vice presidents staff as deep state. It didnt help that her office was next door to that of Jennifer Williams, a Pence foreign policy adviser who had testified before the congressional inquiry and who had a similar public service background. After his acquittal, Trump began a retribution campaign to root out the so-called deep state foes and punish his perceived enemies within his government, including anyone he believed contributed to his impeachment or had otherwise crossed him in the Ukraine saga. Escaping accountability had emboldened Trump. The president told aides it was really his enemies who were responsible for him having been impeached. Their crimes were that, when subpoenaed to testify before Congress, they told the truth under oath. Within two days, Trump tapped his first victims. Vindman and his brother, Yevgeny Vindman, were removed from their NSC posts and reassigned to the Defense Department. Hours later, news broke that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who also had delivered damning testimony to Congress, would be recalled. By months end, Trump would order Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, to vacate his office. Maguires crime? His office had privately briefed a bipartisan group of key members of Congress, as the law required, on intelligencespecifically that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election and had developed a preference for Trump. The president would tell Maguire that he had just handed Democrats great ammunition to use against him in the campaign. In addition, John Rood, the Defense Departments undersecretary for policy, who had certified that Ukraine could receive U.S. aid at a time when Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was trying to block it, would be forced to resign. And by early March, Elaine McCusker, a career public servant who had warned White House officials about the risks of withholding aid from Ukraine, would have her nomination to be Pentagon comptroller withdrawn. Trumps rash and retaliatory dismissal of Maguire would compel retired Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Navy SEALs raid that killed Osama bin Laden, to write: As Americans, we should be frighteneddeeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women cant speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national securitythen there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil. I n early February, around the time of Trumps acquittal, his job approval rating in the Gallup daily tracking average reached 49 percent, its highest measure in his entire presidency. The data collected privately by Trumps campaign pollsters were just as strong. This marked a significant turnabout. Tony Fabrizio had been deeply concerned about the presidents standing when he began work on Trumps reelection in the spring of 2019. Fabrizio conducted a round of polls in seventeen states the campaign identified as battlegrounds, such as Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The data identified a key vulnerability for Trump: Voters perceived the economy to be healthy, booming even, but did not feel it improving their own lives. Roughly six in ten voters thought the economy was moving in the right direction under Trump, but when asked whether they were better off personally, a majority said they felt no difference in their personal financial situation. Fabrizio and other Trump advisers believed the presidents reelection would hinge on the economyand to win he had to close the gap with these voters. This was a psychological challenge as much as a financial one. They advised Trump to stop talking about the economy through the prism of Wall Street and whether stocks were up or down, but instead focus on working people, their wages, and the availability of jobs. In early February 2020, Fabrizio went back into the field in those seventeen battleground states and found Trumps position had completely reversed. Not only were economic perceptions still strong and even a little bit higher than the year prior, but now instead of a majority saying their personal financial situation had not improved, a plurality and in some states a majority said it had. This helped lift Trumps approval rating in those statesso much so that he was leading his Democratic challengers, outside the margin of error, in states whose electoral college votes totaled 278, and he was likely to win in states totaling an additional 40 electoral college votes. If the economy continued to improve, Fabrizio believed, Trump would easily crest 300 electoral college votes in November, clearing the 270 needed to win. Around this time, Brad Parscale met with the president in the Oval Office and made a bold prediction. Look, were going to win on policy, the campaign manager said. Youre going to lose on personality, but the economy youre the winner on, and youre going to win in a landslide. Trump was beside himself. He had survived impeachment, and now the pros running his campaign were telling him he was headed toward a landslide victory. He got to talking about what he would do in his next four years as president. And Parscale, always striving to score points with the boss, continued to fluff him up. Look how much youve gone up, he said. Youre winning New Hampshire. Youre winning Nevada. Youre almost winning New Mexico. Youre close in Minnesota. I dont understand, Trump said, confused about how he could be so popular after such an ugly impeachment saga. Americans dont like a false prosecution, Parscale told him. Democrats, he argued, look petty now. And were in a good place. Just dont make a mistake and youve got this in the bag. A fter a month of prodding, the Chinese government still refused to open its doors to a U.S. team of virus investigators. Robert Redfield tried to press for access through his Chinese counterpart, George Gao. Alex Azar tried calling his counterpart, Chinese health minister Ma Xiaowei. Both men struck out, politely rebuffed by the Chinese. Redfields and Azars exasperation was shared by Robert OBrien and Matt Pottinger at the White House, who by the end of January had concluded the best way to possibly break the logjam would be for Trump to personally appeal to Xi Jinping. When his advisers first suggested this play at the end of January, Trump was wary. He didnt want to insult the Chinese president, with whom he had bragged of having a great relationship, and he didnt want to antagonize the leader of a nuclear power. But by early February, the president agreed to give it his best shot. Set it up, Trump told OBrien and Pottinger. After a few days of negotiations between Washington and Beijing, a call between the two presidents was scheduled for February 7. Trump gently broached with Xi the idea of having a team of Americans from the CDC visit Wuhan, and he tried to couch it in a way to allow Xi to save face. I know youve got this well in hand. Youve got good people, Trump told Xi. Weve also got good people. I think we can be helpful. It would also be useful to us to know more about this. Xi listened as Trump continued. Theyre ready to go, Trump said. Ive got the team ready to go. All you have to do is issue the visas and theyll be there. Xis response was cool. We have this in hand, he told Trump. Were waging a peoples war against this virus. Its going to be fully contained in short order. Then Xi signaled his annoyance with Trumps recent decision to restrict travel from China to the United States. We urge the United States not to overreact, Xi said, adding that the coronavirus was easily defeated in warmer weather. He even stated an approximate temperature at which the virus started to die off: the high 50s Fahrenheit. Were going to be in very good shape, he said. Xi never directly answered Trumps request to allow a CDC team in Wuhan. So Trump circled back to his original ask. We can have people there, he said. Theyre ready to go. Then Xi gave the most direct no without actually saying the word no. Well, the Chinese president said, were working through the WHO. OBrien hoped they could try again and eventually get Xis buy-in. They didnt know how firmly set China was on stonewalling the Americans. T he weekend of February 8, state governors converged on Washington for their annual National Governors Association meeting. It was a jam-packed few days of policy discussions and political confabs, fancy dinners and receptionsand, importantly, an all-hands briefing on the coronavirus led by Anthony Fauci, Redfield, and other government health leaders, who warned that this virus was far more contagious than SARS and would spread in only a matter of time. The South Korean embassy hosted the governors, with President Moon Jae-in beaming in on a video conference to welcome thema warm reminder of the close diplomatic and economic ties between South Korea and the United States. Moon offered a special greeting to Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who chaired the NGA and whose wife, Yumi, was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States in her twenties. Moon called him a son-in-law to the Korean people. The next night, at a private dinner for the Republican Governors Association, Trump gave a rambling address during which he sprayed insults far and widehis remarks so disjointed and long that the catering staff, who were loath to walk around the room while the president was talking, held off delivering entrees to increasingly hungry governors and their spouses. Trump brought up South Korea. Why should we even defend them? Trump asked, referring to the extensive U.S. military presence in the Korean peninsula. Theyre not paying us enough. Trump went on to make fun of Moon, as if they were schoolyard rivals. Yumi Hogan was nearly in tears and thought about walking out, but she kept her composure and the Hogans stayed. The next night, February 9, at the Governors Ball, a black-tie affair hosted every year on NGA weekend at the White House, Yumi Hogan still couldnt shake Trumps attacks on her homeland. It turned out the Hogans were seated for dinner at the ball next to Pence and his wife, Karen. The two couples were relatively close, and the Hogans knew that Pences father was a veteran of the Korean War. Your father fought for freedom in South Korea, Yumi Hogan told the vice president. I wouldnt be here without your dad. Then Marylands first lady cut to the chase. Mr. Vice President, you have to talk to the president, Yumi Hogan said. Did you hear what he said about South Korea? Pence turned slightly red in the face and shook his head. Ever loyal to Trump, the vice president appeared to be searching for words and quickly changed the subject. R oger Stone was a lifelong dirty trickster, a political operative with a carnival huckster style and, most important at this juncture in the sixty-seven-year-olds life, a loyal defender of Trump. He had used smears and sleights of hand to help his political clientsincluding, for many years, Trumpmake their opponents look foolish or guilty, stretching all the way back to his work for Richard Nixon at the start of his career. Stone had been found guilty in November 2019 of obstructing a congressional probe and witness tampering while dodging Special Counsel Robert Muellers Russia investigation. A jury concluded Stone had lied repeatedly to a congressional committee about his advance knowledge of the Russian hack of emails that could embarrass Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, and that he later threatened to hurt a person who could expose his lies. In early February 2020, prosecutors in the U.S. Attorneys Office in Washington faced a judges deadline to recommend the prison sentence befitting his crimes. It was a hot-button case as well as one that Attorney General Bill Barr would soon take a strong interest in. Barr had just arranged to change leadership in the U.S. Attorneys Office, pressuring the U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu over the Christmas holidays and through January to give up her job so he could install one of his closer advisers in that role. Liu was awaiting confirmation hearings for the number three job at Treasury, and though nominees usually got to remain in their job until confirmed for the new one, Barr kept pressing her to go. In an awkward January 9 meeting, Liu asked the attorney general why he wanted to rush her out the door. We dont want the uncertainty, Barr told her. His explanation didnt make sense. He gave her February 1 as a deadline to leave. As that date approached, Barr announced his former counselor Tim Shea would become the new U.S. attorney and start work February 3. This was less than a week before line prosecutors in the office would present a recommendation for Stones punishment. On February 5, the four prosecutors in the D.C. office handling the Stone case recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years. But over the next several days, they received warnings from their supervisors that this proposal wasnt going to fly with their new boss. They said Shea felt pressure to cut Stone a break and was afraid of the president. One of the prosecutors, Aaron Zelinsky, a former Mueller prosecutor who had worked on the Stone team the longest, said he would withdraw from the case rather than sign a politically manipulated recommendation. On February 10, Shea told Barr the prosecutors in his office were pushing to recommend a seven- to nine-year sentence for Stone. Barr told Shea that was ridiculous. He wanted prosecutors to let the judge decide Stones punishment without pushing for the tough sentence they were technically entitled to seek. Shea said he thought he had a good compromise on a recommendation that would satisfy both the prosecutors and Barr. Shea promised to take care of it. That night, the prosecutorial team got word they could file their recommendation of seven to nine years, if they deleted a section describing Stones threatening behavior. Barr, who didnt closely monitor the news, heard reports of the tough new sentencing recommendation. What the hell happened? Barr asked an aide. He couldnt reach Shea. But the attorney general felt the prosecutors were way out of line. White-collar criminals charged with obstructing a criminal probe or lying to federal agents rarely did more than two years in jail. He wasnt wrong about that. On the other hand, Stones conduct had been unusually egregious. In addition to threatening to kill a witness and ruin his life, he had also released an image of crosshairs over the face of the judge presiding over his trial. Barr debated that night with his chief of staff, Brian Rabbitt, about the holy hell they believed he would spark if he reduced the proposed punishment, but decided lessening Stones recommended sentence was the right thing. Were going to have to fix this in the morning, Barr said. Over at the White House, Trump didnt like what he was seeing on the news either. In a sign of how little he slept when he was worked up, Trump issued a fiery tweet at 2:48 a.m. on February 11. This is a horrible and very unfair situation, he wrote. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice! Later that morning at the Justice Department, Barr was discussing the new sentencing recommendation with staff when Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen walked in. It was about 8:30 a.m. So, did you see the presidents tweet? Rosen asked. Aides looked at their phones and read it aloud. Holy shit, Barr said. Now what do I do? Should he proceed with reducing the recommendation or stand down? Barr decided to go forward. It looked to prosecutors across the countryand many in the general publiclike Barr was dutifully obeying Trumps Twitter instructions. Trump and Barr insisted they never spoke about what to do about Stone, but that hardly mattered. Trumps wishes about going easy on Stone were easy for anyone to see. Barrs decision only cemented the view that the attorney general was manhandling the independent Justice Department to do Trumps bidding. At Barrs instruction, Shea told the court his office wasnt pushing for a specific penalty. It was too much for the four prosecutors on the caseZelinsky, Jonathan Kravis, Adam Jed, and Michael Marandowho each left the case or resigned from the department altogether. This was a deafening version of what lawyers call a noisy withdrawala notice that signals to the court that lawyers are disgusted with the client or the handling of the case. In this case, both. Liu, meanwhile, was preparing for her upcoming Senate confirmation hearing for the Treasury job, relieved she had had no role in the Stone decision, when she got a strange call from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchins office asking her to meet with Mnuchin to discuss the stuff in the news today. When they met, an apologetic Mnuchin told Liu that she wouldnt get the job because the White House decided to withdraw her nomination. Can you tell me why? she asked. Im sorry, the secretary said. I cannot. Trump had been convinced by conspiracy-minded supporters that Liu was part of the deep state and had gone too easy on former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, a villain in Trumps mind, and gone too hard against Stone. Their list of objections to Liu was longer still, but this was enough. In Trumps view, she was disloyal, and she was out. Furious that his reputation was taking a beating, Barr knew he could not change the minds of the Stone prosecutors, but he was determined to establish for the record that the president wasnt pulling his strings. He also knew he had to get through to the so-called audience of one, Trump. Barrs staff arranged for him to sit for an interview with Pierre Thomas of ABC News on February 13, explaining the Stone case. They did not give the White House a heads-up; Barr wanted Trump to watch it and understand he meant business. I think its time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases, Barr told Thomas. Im not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody . . . whether its Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president. . . . I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me. Not more than two minutes after the interview aired, Barrs cell phone rang. It was the audience of one. Barrs message had been received. Instantly. Hey, I thought that was cool, Trump told him. Theres no problem. I meant what I said, Mr. President, Barr replied. You cant be doing that kind of thing. The president wasnt in the mood to fully comply, however. In a volley that had become familiar, Trump tried to get the last word. Early in the morning of February 14, the president was back on Twitter, quoting the part of Barrs interview where he said the president had never asked him to interfere in the Stone case. This doesnt mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to! Trump wrote. Later that day, however, Trump got a taste of the Justice Departments independence, though the timing was strictly coincidental. The department notified McCabes lawyers they were dropping their investigation of him and would not charge him for lying about disclosing information to the media. Trump raged about this development to his aides, furious the deep state former FBI honcho wasnt going to be roughed up by prosecutors. That afternoon, Trump bellyached to Barr that this wasnt fair. He wanted to know why the government couldnt bring a case against McCabe. Barr put his foot down. Im not talking to you about that, he said. B y mid-February, the coronavirus had killed some two thousand people around the world and sickened seventy-five thousand. The vast majority of cases were in China, but the contagion was spreading quickly, with infections now reported in at least twenty-eight other countries, including the United States. World leaders were on edge, but the kind of global stewardship the United States had often provided at moments of international crisis was nonexistent. Jeremy Farrar, one of the worlds leading infectious disease experts, who was based in London, was so exasperated by the lack of engagement by the White House that he called Tom Bossert, who had served as Trumps homeland security and counterterrorism adviser earlier in the administration. In the mid-2000s, as a staffer on President George W. Bushs National Security Council, Bossert had helped write a pandemic response strategy, and Farrar saw him as an ally in trying to contain the coronavirus. Theres nobody we can talk to, Farrar told Bossert. Nobodys answering our calls. Bossert took Farrars plea to heart. He put in calls to Trump and Pence, and even tried to track down a private number for Melania Trump, hoping to scare them into action on the virus, but had no luck. He was convinced that Jared Kushner, Trumps son-in-law and senior adviser, who was the most powerful aide in the West Wing, and Marc Short were blocking his calls as an act of retaliation after Bossert had criticized in an ABC News interview Trumps phone call with the Ukrainian president. When Bossert got through to Trumps assistant, Molly Michael, he told her, Either Marc Short or Jared are standing in front of your desk. Tell them, Fuck you. Mr. Bossert wants to talk to the president. Put me through to the president and let him decide. Michael suggested Bossert talk to Pence, but when Bossert was connected to the vice presidents office, Short picked up. Sorry, he said, the VP isnt interested in talking to you right now. Hes busy. Come on, Marc, this is serious, Bossert replied, and went into a spiel about just how devastating the infection rate and death toll could soon be. Weve got plenty of smart people working on this, but none of them have numbers that agree with yours, Short said. Its not that bad. Thanks for your call. Well figure it out. Short told Pence about Bosserts outreach and tried to arrange a follow-up conversation, but it was unclear if the two ever spoke. Bossert, who was warning that the virus would leave ninety-eight million people sick, twelve to fifteen million hospitalized, and five hundred thousand dead, never got to speak with Trump. Bossert confided his frustrations in Fauci, whom he had known for years. Listen, Fauci told him, I just present the facts. I wish you were still in the White House. Im not the one that runs the CDC. Im the infectious disease person that does the research. Fauci told Bossert that he felt little urgency about the virus from the White House. Trump wasnt attending task-force meetings, for instance, and the federal response efforts were not being properly coordinated. It was a mess. T rump had long considered the stock markets his political weathervane, so the week of February 24, when markets tanked amid reports the coronavirus was spreading across South Korea and Italy, brought gale-force winds. The president was on a two-day visit to India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi played to his ego by staging a massive, hundred-thousand-person stadium rally called Namaste Trump. Back in the United States, Nancy Messonnier, the head of the CDCs National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, held her daily media teleconference on February 25 to update the public on the rapidly evolving coronavirus situation. She spoke the truth. I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe, Messonnier told reporters. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now. I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning and I told my children that while I didnt think that they were at risk right now, we as a family need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives. You should ask your childrens school about their plans for school dismissals or school closures. Ask if there are plans for teleschool. I contacted my local school superintendent this morning with exactly those questions. You should think about what you would do for childcare if schools or day cares close, if teleworking is an option for you. All of these questions can help you be better prepared for what might happen. Messonniers warnings of impending disruptions to everyday life quickly became banner headlines on television news. The markets reaction was deafening, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling another 879 points that afternoon. Aides watching from the West Wing were gobsmacked, and some believed Messonnier had been overly alarmist. This is ridiculous, Short said, shaking his head. At about the same time, Trump boarded Air Force One in India for his return to Washington. The president stayed awake for the entire fourteen-hour turbulent flight home, watching market reports and news coverage. He was fuming about Messonnier, becoming obsessed with a CDC scientist he had never met. Trump called Azar from the plane. What the hell is this woman doing? he said. What are these statements? The market has collapsed. The president added, Shes scaring people! This is killing me! Azar said Messonniers only failing was getting out in front of the president in explaining it to the public. What she said is true and were actually planning to meet with you at five p.m. the day you get back to go through all of this, Azar said. You gotta keep her away from the microphone, Trump ordered. You gotta get out there and clear this up. Get the market calm again. Azar tried to sound agreeable and understanding, having learned that when Trump was in a true frenzy, it was better to absorb his rage rather than argue. He said he had a press briefing of his own scheduled within the next hour or so. Well get this clarified, Azar said. Also on the flight home, Melania Trump tried to talk some sense into her husband. You have to take this more seriously, the first lady told the president. This is going to be a big problem and you need to get out in front of it. . . . You cant be telling people its just going to go away, that you have it handled, because we dont and you need to stop. Concerned that he might not listen to her, Melania Trump then enlisted former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, an old friend of the presidents, to help reinforce her message with him. When Christie called him, Trump casually dismissed him. You sound just like Melania, Trump told Christie. You two worry too much. The morning of February 26, Trump took to Twitter to accuse the media and Democrats of exaggerating the coronavirus threat, though he misspelled the name of the virus. Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) and @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape! @CDCgov . . . Trump called a coronavirus news conference for 6:00 p.m. Redfield was out of town, so his deputy, Anne Schuchat, was due to sub in for him at the event. It would be her first time meeting the president. Azar called her to warn, Please make sure he knows youre not Nancy Messonnier or hes going to scream at you! When he arrived at the White House, Azar first went to Mulvaneys office. The chief told him Trump was thinking of naming Pence as coronavirus czar. Azar had been chairing the task force and had just told Trump that he wasnt convinced a czar was ideal, so he was a little perplexed. When they joined the president in the Oval, Trump said he was thinking about installing the vice president as czar. But within minutes, it was clear this was already cooked and decided. The president announced at the news conference that Pence was taking over the task force. Afterward, Pence asked Azar and other task-force members to follow him. Lets huddle in my office, you can brief me on the process, Pence said. Once inside, Pence turned to Azar. This is a very serious moment in our nations history. We should begin with the secretary leading us in prayer, something the evangelical Christian vice president often did when chairing important meetings. A devout Catholic and member of an Eastern Orthodox church, Azar wasnt used to praying in government offices, but said a prayer at the vice presidents urging. I think what we have here is a communication discipline issue, Pence said. My number one issue is getting a handle on communications. He talked about the importance of clear, consistent messaging in any crisis, something he had learned firsthand as governor of Indiana. In consultation with Mulvaney and others, Trump also had considered former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Christie to lead the task force but settled on Pence. They worried that if the vice president were in charge, the White House would own any problems, but they also felt the crisis had become bigger than Azar seemed able to handle. Mulvaney in particular wanted the coronavirus response to be brought in-house and controlled by the White House, and he thought Pence was the obvious choice. Already peeved with Azar over e-cigarettes and other issues, Trump told other senior officials that he blamed the health secretary for the floundering virus response and a public relations mess. Kushner would later explain to Azar that Trump picked Pence because he wanted someone to focus solely on telling people the virus was under control, and because the vice president wasnt particularly busy. Pence had spent much of his time traveling domestically, trying to keep the religious faithful and conservative base engaged for the reelection, but that travel was ending because of coronavirus fears. He didnt have anything else to do, Kushner told Azar. A senior administration official said Kushner did not recall the conversation. Pence and his aides moved quickly to take over all communications related to the virus. Mulvaney sent a memo to administration officials instructing that all talking points, press releases, and interview bookings first be approved by Short or Katie Miller, Pences communications director, fresh off her wedding less than two weeks earlier to Stephen Miller, Trumps senior policy adviser and chief speechwriter. Katie Miller and Short wanted every task-force member delivering the same message, and they wanted to avoid another Messonnier incident. Azars press aide Caitlin Oakley called the secretary late that evening. All your press bookings are cancelled, she told him. The health secretary was being put in a closet, effectively demoted and muzzled because a CDC scientist had told the truth. O n February 29, Pence convened the coronavirus task-force meeting to order and turned to the agenda. Just then, Trump walked in, surprising those in attendancenot merely because it was a Saturday and Trump was not known to work on weekends, but also because he had shown so little interest in their work before. Pence, seated at the head of the table, welcomed the president and scooched his chair over to the left to let Trump sit at the head. Azar decided to broach the topic of the viruss spread to all continents. He thought it was past time the World Health Organization declare COVID-19 a pandemic, as it by now had met the criteria for that grim label. Mr. President, we need to start calling this a pandemic because it is one, Azar said. The WHO is not going to say it now, because they dont want to embarrass China. The WHO is going to wait until cases are rising in the U.S. Then, Tedros will have air cover to call it a pandemic to embarrass us. We need to get ahead of it and call it a pandemic now. Azar was referring to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO. While considered the preeminent global health agency, the WHO had also become increasingly sensitive to not alienating the Chinese government, which had dramatically increased its funding of the group in recent years to try to compete with the United States. The WHO had publicly taken China at its word and praised the ruling Communist Party leadership for its work on the virus, even amid growing evidence the Chinese government was concealing information about it. At hearing Azars suggestion about using the p-word, though, Trump blew a gasket. The memory of Messonnier and the precipitous market drop still was fresh. Trump said no way. This will cause panic, he bellowed. We will not call it a pandemic. Trump had reason to worry. Fabrizio was in Israel around this time advising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his election there. Netanyahu was a keen observer of American politics, having spent part of his youth in the Philadelphia area, attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and worked for the Boston Consulting Group. He and Fabrizio got to talking about the Democratic primary campaign, which had been heating up all month. Let me tell you something, Tony, Netanyahu told Trumps pollster. None of these Democrats can beat Donald Trump. Really? Fabrizio said. Yeah, Netanyahu replied. The only thing that can beat President Trump is coronavirus. Are you serious, Mr. Prime Minister? Fabrizio asked. Yeah, he said. If you dont understand what a pandemic is and the mathematics behind how this will spread if we dont contain it, it will collapse economies, and that changes the ball game tremendously. Four The P-Word I n February 2020, Dr. Deborah Birx was working in South Africa, meeting with public health experts and other leaders from around the globe to combat the global AIDS epidemic, when she received increasingly worrisome messages from an old contact, Matt Pottinger. At sixty-three, Birx had worked for four decades in immunology, conducting HIV/AIDS vaccine research and developing therapeutics. A physician who began her career in the army, she rose to become an ambassador-at-large and U.S. global AIDS coordinator. She and Pottinger had known each other for years; his wife, Yen, a virologist, once worked in Birxs lab. Pottinger knew Birx could help steer the administrations response to the coronavirus, which was fast becoming a catastrophe. Day after day, he appealed to her to come work in the White House. Although Birx had been appointed to her ambassadorship by President Obama in 2014, she prided herself on remaining apolitical as a civil servant. She knew enough about the daily dramas in Trumps Washington to want to stay away. As Birx confided to associates, she would have to be an idiot to sign up to work in the White House. Doing so, she figured, could be terminal to her long public health career. Serving Trump was the last thing she wanted to do. But Pottinger persisted. Birx was studying the infection curves from Wuhan and Italy and was worried about the administrations approach given this virus had significant asymptomatic spread. She was alarmed by the Trump administrations initial moves, especially its public statements that the virus posed a very low risk to peoples livelihoods. She started to think she could help make a difference. You can save American lives, Pottinger told her, appealing to her military background and sense of duty. By months end, Birx was on board, after Robert OBrien arranged with Mike Pompeo to move her to the White House. She would become the White House coronavirus response coordinator, reporting to Vice President Pence, who now chaired the task force. On the long flight home from Africa the weekend of February 29, Birx wrote an action plan. She wanted to convene immediately a series of meetings with important outside stakeholders, including private-sector labs who could help ramp up testing capacities and medical correspondents in the media, such as CNNs Sanjay Gupta, to help them communicate the seriousness of the emerging pandemic. Birxs first day on the job was March 2. On MSNBC that morning, anchor Chris Jansing told viewers, Weve got some breaking news. One of the main people in charge of fighting the deadly coronavirus in the U.S. now says it has indeed reached outbreak proportions and likely pandemic proportions. The network then rolled tape of correspondent Richard Engel interviewing Anthony Fauci. What are we dealing with with this coronavirus, COVID-19? Engel asked. Were dealing with clearly an emerging infectious disease that has now reached outbreak proportions and likely pandemic proportions, Fauci said. If you look at, you know, by multiple definitions of what a pandemic is, the fact is, this is multiple sustained transmissions of a highly infectious agent in multiple regions of the globe. Jansing returned to the screen to make the significance clear to viewers. So Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is widely regarded as the number one expert in the country . . . talking for the first time about a pandemic. Within the hour, Marc Short was on the phone to Brian Harrison. Though Short recognized it was just a matter of time before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, he nonetheless didnt want Fauci or any other task-force member straying from precoordinated talking points. Youve got to get Fauci on message, Short told Alex Azars chief of staff. He is saying things that are too extreme. Harrison didnt make any promises, but said hed relay the message. Shorts call came as a shock at HHS headquarters, in part because the White House had never tried to control Faucis comments or interview appearances on public health. But Pence was now leading the task force, and its focus immediately became more political. Azar huddled with Harrison, deputy chief of staff Judy Stecker, and Caitlin Oakley. Azar told his aides they wouldnt be monkeying with what Fauci had to say because that would only backfire and make them look like tools of the White House. We arent going to harness or silence CDC or NIH on scientific matters, Azar said. It is just stupid. Some had complained, in fact, that Azar did try to control the scientists message when he determined it was important to do so, but he resisted Shorts instruction. For thirty-six years in his role, Fauci had had the same philosophy on speaking with presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump. Each time he walked into the White House, Fauci told himself that this might be his last time doing that, because he might have to tell the president something he didnt want to hear. Fauci knew that could mean banishment. On March 2, Trump met with pharmaceutical executives at the White House. With Fauci present, the president predicted a rather optimistic timeline for a coronavirus vaccine. So youre talking over the next few months, you think you can have a vaccine? Trump asked one of the pharmaceutical executives. You wont have a vaccine, Fauci interjected. Youll have a vaccine to go and get tested. When an executive explained the phases of testing would take many months, Trump asked, All right, so youre talking within a year? Like Ive been telling you, Mr. President, a year to a year and a half, Fauci corrected. I like the sound of a couple of months better, lets be honest, Trump said. It was clear to Fauci and other health professionals in the room that Trump did not understand the steps involved in developing, testing, approving, and ultimately injecting into peoples arms a vaccine. The next day, Trump toured Faucis lab, the NIH Vaccine Research Center, as part of the White House effort to showcase the presidents determination to speed up the creation of a vaccine. Fauci again reminded Trump that getting a vaccine in a year was wildly optimistic. At the end of the tour, Fauci and Azar drove with the president across Wisconsin Avenue from the NIH campus to the helipad at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Marine One awaited to fly Trump back to the White House. So hows Francis Collins doing? the president asked Azar, referring to the NIH director they had just said goodbye to. Hes really helped us on the fetal tissue ban, Azar said. He referred to Trumps 2019 decision to dramatically cut government funding at NIH and elsewhere for medical research that relied on tissues of aborted fetuses. This was a move to please antiabortion conservatives, a key part of the presidents political base. Collins didnt agree with the policy, Azar told Trump, but was being very professional in implementing it. Azar was surprised when Trump asked, Is that fetal tissue issue going to slow down the vaccine and therapies? When he learned the answer was yes, the president said he wanted them to reverse the ban, but that never happened. W ith Pence firmly in charge of the task force the first week of March, priorities shifted noticeably to public relations and election-year politics. As the vice presidents top aide, Short took on an outsized role, setting the agenda and even seating arrangements for meetings. Short was among the most conservative members of the team and felt there should be limits on the role of the government, even in a public health emergency. He worried about Pence being responsible for the coronavirus response, calculating that any missteps could accrue to the political detriment of his boss, who had his eye on a presidential run of his own in 2024. But Pences attitude was, okay, this is my job, and Im going to try to do the best I can. Short, fifty, formed a power center with Katie Miller, twenty-eight, who was so aggressive in her advocacy for Pence that she would scream at reporters on the phone, sometimes so loudly that other aides had to leave the room because they found her end of the conversations insulting. Short and Miller tightly controlled which task-force members could speak to the media and what they would say, though they did not see their actions as muzzling experts. Their objective was to silence alarmism and to keep Fauci and other health professionals from scaring the publicwhich in turn could further jolt the already jittery stock markets and weaken the presidents political fortuneseven if it meant shading the truth. When the facts seemed too scary to the public, Miller would ask task-force members, Can we not word it that way? At press briefings, which Pence was leading at the time, Short and Miller would decide which doctors stood at his side and where they would be positioned onstage. Olivia Troye sometimes helped speechwriter Brian Bolduc script the opening remarks Pence would deliver, a daily update on infections and other relevant statistics. Troye was adamant they be entirely factual and apolitical. One day in a workspace off the Situation Room, as Troye was drafting Pences remarks on her computer, Miller kicked Troye out of her chair. Olivia, move, Miller said. She had just come down from Pences office, where the vice president had given her instructions to add some points to his script. Im going to type this, Miller told Troye. You dont know Pence. I know what he wants. He doesnt even know what he wants. But I know what he needs. Keith Kellogg later counseled Troye, Dont let her touch the remarks. You should take control of that situation. You know your stuff. [Pence] wants the facts and he trusts you. . . . Dont let her bully you. Task-force meetings took on a fresh intensity, attracting long-standing members as well as new ones, including Seema Verma. She reported to Azar, her longtime rival, and when he ran the task force he hadnt included her, arguing that the CMS administrator wasnt necessary like experts such as Fauci and Redfield. But Verma had deep ties in the White House. From Indiana, she had served as an outside health-care adviser to Pences administration when he was governor and advised Trump on his health-care policies during the 2016 campaign. After Pence took over the task force, Verma appealed to Short, explained that her agency regulates nursing homes, where some of the worst outbreaks were occurring, and Pence immediately added her to the task force. Pence also brought on two other officials who reported to Azar and had been left off the task force when he ran it: Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, whose job was to serve as a public health spokesperson, who had served as Indianas state health commissioner in Pences administration; and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, who was a radiation oncologist who had just joined the administration in December 2019 and was new not only to Trump World but to politics altogether. Many mornings, Hahn would have 7:00 or 7:30 calls with Joe Grogan for guidance about navigating task-force personalities and political land mines. Hahn was wise to worry about interpersonal dynamics. Tensions were high among many task-force members, including between Redfield and Azar. The bad blood between them dated to Redfields early weeks as CDC director. When he agreed to take the job in March 2018, Redfield gave up a medical professorship that earned him about $700,000 a year. Under a federal salary program called Title 42, which was designed to attract high-earning scientists with unique and critical skills into the government, Redfield was paid $375,000. After news reports later revealed Redfields salary, emphasizing that he was making nearly double what his predecessor at the CDC had earned, and more than Azars pay of $199,000, Azar confronted Redfield. How did you negotiate a salary like that? Azar asked. Redfield, who reported to Azar, said there were a number of fellow Title 42s making salaries in the high three hundreds and he assumed Azar had approved it. If I had known that you were going to have to be paid this much, I would have probably asked to look for somebody else, Azar snapped, his voice loud and his tone sharp. Mr. Secretary, lets just be real clear here, Redfield said. I came in to do this job for the mission, not the money, so if you feel a need to change my salary, change my salary. Azar did just that, slashing Redfields pay to $185,000, comfortably below his own. Later during the coronavirus response, when Azar sought to blame Redfield for delays in fixing a flawed CDC test, the CDC directors mind raced back to the salary fight. I should have known from the beginning this guy didnt have my back, Redfield told Kyle McGowan, his chief of staff. Complicating matters internally was the evolving guidance provided by health officials. At first, Fauci and others argued that face coverings were not a necessary precaution, even as mask usage was widespread in Asia. Masks I dont believe do very much, Fauci said in an early task-force meeting. It might make you feel better. In February and March, Fauci and Adams made similar comments publicly, arguing that masks were only needed for health workers. At the time, although masks were proven to protect against contagions in hospitals and other medical settings, there was not yet strong evidence that masks were effective in other environments. In addition, Fauci and Adams were concerned about a run on masks, which were in low supply, and wanted to preserve them for hospital workers and other first responders. By the end of March, however, once the evidence of asymptomatic spread by airborne transmission became overwhelming and studies showed that face coverings were effective in all settings, Fauci, Adams, and other task-force members would change their tune and advocate widespread mask usage. Although Trump had previously seemed uninterested in the details of the pandemic, when the virus came to dominate the news cycle in late February and early March, Trump suddenly took a keen interest in the task force and began attending both the public briefings and the closed-door meetings. At one of the latter sessions in the Situation Room, Trump offended some of his aides by interrupting a briefing on the health crisis to identify what he considered a silver lining. I dont know, maybe this COVID thing is a good thing because I dont have to shake hands with people, the germaphobe president said, according to Troye. I was a businessperson in New York and I shook a lot of hands, but when youre a politician, you really have to shake a lot more hands. I have to shake hands with these disgusting people. Its disgusting. And now I dont have to shake their hands. Maybe its a good thing. Trump said through a spokesman that he always hated shaking peoples hands and denied that he said this in relation to COVID. I n the first week of March, the possibility of having to impose further travel restrictionsincluding on the cruise industryweighed heavily on task-force members. Cruise ships were turning into floating COVID cities, super-spreaders at sea. The CDC had been struggling for weeks with what to do about the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan, on which hundreds of passengers, some of them U.S. citizens, had tested positive for the virus. But in early March, officials were learning of a cluster of COVID cases coming off another cruise ship, the Grand Princess, which had returned home to port after embarking on its journey from San Francisco in mid-February with thirty-five hundred passengers. To top it off, an elderly passenger on that voyage had suffered extreme respiratory distress upon disembarking. On March 3, she tested positive for COVID-19 and died on March 4. Gathered in the Situation Room, several advisers urged Pence to consider a full ban on cruises setting sail on new voyages. Pence, ever mindful of alienating corporate America, said he wasnt ready. On March 5, the pressure to do something about the floating viral vessel ratcheted up. Redfield, who had the authority to order a ban on cruises, was most emphatic, and Azar agreed. They explained that worldwide three hundred thousand Americans had recently been passengers on these ships and many could have become infected. Ken Cuccinelli, a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, warned they needed a decisionand soon. He told Pence that an estimated hundred thousand more passengers would set sail in two days, as most cruises departed on Saturdays, and stressed that the Coast Guard would need twenty-four hours notice to issue a no-sail order. As the discussion continued, Pence and Short grew concerned that some of the doctorswho in this and other meetings disparaged cruises as petri dishes and made comments like, I dont know why anyone would go on a cruiseharbored a bias against the industry. They worried about the precedent it could set if the government imposed harsher restrictions on cruise liners than on commercial airlines, for instance. Task-force members saw Short pass Pence a note. Then the vice president said, I think we need to study that some more. Im not ready for that. Pence told the group he planned instead to meet with the cruise ship CEOs that coming Saturday, March 7, in Fort Lauderdale, a primary port of call in South Florida, in order to see what health precautions the industry was taking to control spread aboard their vacations at sea. Trump also was bound for Florida that weekend, but there were some coronavirus hiccups in his travel plans on Thursday and Friday. Trump was scheduled to fly to CDC headquarters in Atlanta for a press event on March 6 to showcase the hard work going on to increase testing capacity. But the evening of March 5, Azar urged Mick Mulvaney to cancel the event because a CDC staffer on the campus appeared to have tested positive for COVID. The acting White House chief of staff agreed. The next morning, at a White House event, Trump motioned to Azar. Why the fuck did we cancel the trip to the CDC? the president demanded. Theres a case we thought was positive, Azar said, though in the intervening hours they would learn it was a false positive. Screw that, Trump said. Were going. Trump hollered over to an aide: Make it happen. Im going. The Secret Service went into overdrive to replan a canceled trip in less than four hours. Once he got to Atlanta for the CDC tour, Trump didnt mince words in reacting to the troubling news that roughly half of the people tested on the Grand Princess ship being held in the waters off San Franciscotwenty-one out of forty-six passengershad tested positive for COVID. Trump told reporters he didnt think the infected people should disembark, although public health officials said it was an unhealthy place to quarantine and would likely result in increased infections. Frankly, if it were up to me, I would be inclined to say leave everybody on the ship for a period of time and you use the ship as your base, but a lot of people would rather do it a different way, Trump said. Theyd rather quarantine people on the land. Now, when they do that, our numbers are going to go up. Our numbers are going to go up. The answer revealed Trumps consistent focus on political optics, public health be damned. He wanted the cruise business to keep chugging alongand most of all, he wanted to keep from having to count cruise ship infections in our numbers. Wearing a red cap emblazoned with his reelection campaign slogan, KEEP AMERICA GREAT, and flanked by Redfield and Azar, Trump claimed to have special scientific expertise. I like this stuff, he said. My uncle is a great person who was at [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. He taught at MIT for, I think, a record number of years. He was a great, super genius. Dr. John Trump. I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, How do you know so much about this? Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president. This natural ability did not prevent the president from ignoring medical advice. At a time when most Americans were avoiding social interactions out of fear of spreading the virus, Trump spent the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, where he had dinner with the Brazilian president and members of his delegation, three of whom tested positive for the virus. He also attended a thousand-person campaign fundraiser and a large birthday bash for Kimberly Guilfoyle, his son Donald Trump Jr.s girlfriend, who was turning fifty-one. Absent from the CDC visit was Mulvaney, who typically accompanied the president on his travels. Once Trump got to Mar-a-Lago the evening of March 6, he announced on Twitter that he was appointing a new chief of staff, Mark Meadows, a former Republican congressman from North Carolina and one of Trumps fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill, who had long been a thorn in the side of the party establishment. Aside from being appointed U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland as a consolation prize, Mulvaneys dumping was unceremonious. Trumps selection of Meadows surprised no one. After three years of grinding through the guardrails, the president finally had found the ultimate enabler to be his chief of staff. Meadows had proved his loyalty to Trump during the impeachment proceedings, helping lead the presidents defense strategy and appearing frequently on the Fox News Channel to attack the investigation. He had cultivated a close relationship with the president, Jared Kushner, and other members of the Trump family. He had recently dined with the president at the steakhouse in the Trump International Hotel in Washington and, unlike Mulvaney, sat with him at the head table at the February 16 wedding of Stephen and Katie Miller. Meadowss transition would be delayed by a couple of weeks because he had been exposed to someone with the coronavirus, so he self-isolated at home before reporting to work at the White House. The next day, March 7, Pence, accompanied by Redfield, met with the cruise ship executives, just as a new cycle of cruise ships tossed off their lines at the ferry docks and set sail. The CEOs told the vice president they were working on their plan; Pence announced they would be allowed to keep sailing. When the task force met on March 8, Azar told Pence they needed to take bolder steps. Weve got to ban cruise ships, Azar said. Weve got to stop travel with Europe and get our travel advisories up. Pence nodded, listening attentively, and smiled when Azar finished talking. Yes, we need to be bold here, Pence said. But we need to set up a process to think about that. Public health officials were beside themselves at the inaction since Pence had taken the reins. The vice presidents first instincts were to delay decisions. Pottinger commiserated about the paralysis, telling another official, They cant seem to get to a decision. As an outside adviser to the president explained at the time, Pence is just drifting around. Theres no decision being made at the task-force level. The decisions are all Trump, or theyre not getting made. G rogan awoke on March 9, anxious about the hugely consequential workweek ahead of him. He had been emailing with Birx and Redfield over the weekend, and they all agreed that this week would be make or break for the virus. We cant pussyfoot around, Grogan said. Big decisions would need to be made about travel restrictions and other measures. Early that Monday morning, he reached out to Ivanka Trump and Kushner. This is going to be a really momentous week, he told the couple. I may need you guys to say something to the president to get him focused. Two days later, on March 11, the issue of further restricting travel came to a head. Pence convened a meeting in the Roosevelt Room. Azar, Redfield, Fauci, Birx, Grogan, and Kellogg were there. So were Steven Mnuchin, Mike Pompeo, Robert OBrien, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf. Chris Liddell, a deputy White House chief of staff, asked Kushner to join them, considering the magnitude of the decision facing the president. They also were joined by Hope Hicks, Trumps longtime communications adviser who had left the White House in 2018 but returned in early March 2020 as a counselor to the president. There was consensus around the table to shut down inbound travel from Europe, although Mnuchin argued against it because such restrictions would constrain the transcontinental flow of goods and people and therefore inhibit commerce. Larry Kudlow, the National Economic Council director, shared that view and was adamant that cargo flights be permitted to continue unimpeded. Mnuchin and Kudlow both said restricting transcontinental travel would be economically catastrophic. The group then moved to the Oval Office to present their recommendation to the president. Redfield felt the issue was so urgent that when it came time for him to lay out his recommendation, he stood up, walked toward Trump, and put his hands on the Resolute Desk. Mr. President, we need to shut down all air travel to and from Europe, the CDC director said. Are you serious? Trump asked, looking incredulous. He had a lot of questions, but the first was the obvious one. Why? Redfield explained that the pathogen was spreading through the United States very quickly and they desperately needed to slow down the rate of spread by stopping new cases from flying in. I wish that we had come to you to suggest that two weeks ago, Redfield said. Clearly this coronavirus is getting seeded throughout our country from a virus thats gone from China to Europe, Europe to America, and we need to shut down all air travel. Mnuchin shook his head and firmly objected. Trump asked him some questions. Then he turned to Birx. Do you agree with Redfield? he asked. She said she did. Fauci, do you agree with Redfield? Trump continued. I do, sir, Fauci replied. He chimed in to explain that Italys numbers of infectionsand deathswere astronomical. Anyone in Italy could travel almost anywhere else in Europe. Mnuchin continued to make the case that the economy wouldnt recover. You cant do that, Mr. President, he said. The Treasury secretary warned of an economic meltdown far grimmer than a recession. Were not talking about the r-word here. Were talking about the d-word. This will be a depression; youll never get out of it throughout your presidency. But the doctors in the room were predicting a grim death toll if they didnt block the pathogen at the border. Let me give you the data, Steve, Birx said. Weve got infections right now in thirty-five states. Thirty of those states have infections from European sources. Only five states have infections that originated in China. . . . If we dont do something, were talking about deaths that could be a massive, massive number. Mnuchin continued to push back about a market collapse. OBrien said, This is something we have to do. Were talking about saving thousands of lives. How do you think the markets are going to react when thousands of people die from this? Kushner thought the debate had gotten too emotional and tried to buy time. Lets not make [the decision] right now. Lets give the president a couple hours to think about this and lets come back to him with a set of clear options, he said, suggesting they meet among themselves in the meantime and try to dial the temperature down. The group moved to the Cabinet Room, where although Pence chaired the task force it became awkwardly clear to those in the room that Kushner was really in charge. He led the meeting, questioned Birx on her virus data, and challenged other speakers. At moments, Pence sounded like a supplicant to the presidents son-in-law. Jared, what do you think? the vice president asked. Jared, what would you do? One attendee said it was nauseating to watch Pence defer to Kushner, considering only one of them actually had been elected by the American people. The advisers then returned to the Oval and recommended to Trump that he shut down travel from Europe. They argued it was the right thing to do medically, and that if the virus threat dissipated, they could always reverse the restrictions at a later point. Trumps mind was made up. He had sided with the doctors. We can always rebuild the economy, the president said. We cant get these lives back. We can make the money back. Weve got to shut it down. Mnuchin came around to supporting Trumps decision, but stressed that the government had to take aggressive steps to protect the economy from the anticipated aftershocks. Trump was scheduled to meet next with Blackstone Group chairman Stephen Schwarzman and other business leaders. I should speak to those guys about it, Trump said, hesitating about his decision. Mr. President, if you do that and reverse your decision to shut down travel, just be aware that the story in the press will be that you reversed your decision after talking to a bunch of billionaires, Grogan said. I can ask them, Trump said. As the presidents advisers dispersed, OBrien took a shortcut to his office through the West Wing reception area. There, Fauci stopped him and patted him on the arm. Bob, thank you, Fauci said. You saved a lot of lives today. T rump stuck with the travel restrictions and, at Kushners recommendation, made plans to deliver a televised address to the nation that evening from the Oval Office at arguably the most sobering moment of his presidency. You have to show a real commitment to the fact that you are taking this seriously, Kushner told Trump. The speech was hastily prepared, written quickly by Kushner, Stephen Miller, and staff secretary Derek Lyons, with considerable input from Pence. The script was ready to be spoon-fed to the president via the teleprompter in front of him as he sat behind the Resolute Desk. Some of Trumps top advisers stood in a semicircle behind the cameras, facing the president. Trump looked up at Azar, the health secretary he barely tolerated, and teased him. Do you wanna do this instead of me? Trump asked, partly joking. Azar laughed and said: Nope. All yours. But just as they were readying to go live, the president looked down and cursed. One of the black-inked Sharpies he liked to use had bled onto his shirt, its cap having wriggled off. Oh, fuck, Trump said. Uh-oh, I got a pen mark. Anybody, anybody have any white stuff? The president of the United States had suffered a wardrobe malfunction. Hicks dashed up to his desk and gently tugged at his jacket and tie to make sure it covered the black spot. In a matter of moments, she had fixed the problem. The president began. The speech was going reasonably well, his aides felt. But then Trump veered off script and mistakenly said the U.S. government was shutting off all transportation from Europe, which left the impression no ships could bring cargo to American ports. In addition, he neglected to specify that U.S. citizens would be exempt and allowed to return home. Trumps aides, who knew the travel ban did not include cargo restrictions, cringed. Oh, shit, why didnt he just read the script? Azar thought. Still, when Trump finished, the small cluster of aides around Trump told him a version of the same thing: Home run, boss. Trump was beaming, thinking he had sounded decisive and strong. But he acknowledged to aides right away that he had made a mistake in describing the travel ban. Kushner sought to reassure him by saying the White House would correct his misstatement, and Trump sent a cleanup tweet of his own. The restriction stops people not goods, he wrote. The ten-minute speech drew sharp criticismnot only because it was riddled with errors, but also because of its nationalist and xenophobic tone and the presidents lack of empathy and boasts instead about his own decisions. Trump seemed ill at ease. His delivery was labored and monotone, as he twiddled his thumbs, struggling at times to read the words on the teleprompter. Aides speculated that his heart simply wasnt in it. As one of them recalled, He didnt say he didnt want to do it, but he wasnt gung-ho about it, and when hes not one hundred percent in it, its not a good result typically. The speech was intended to reassure the nation that he had the coronavirus crisis under control. It had the opposite effect, raising more questions than providing answers. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell in real time with virtually each word Trump uttered, a preview of the bloodbath in the stock markets to come the next morning. Absorbing the criticism made Trump apoplectic. The lack of clear instructions in Trumps announcement set off chaos in airports on both sides of the Atlantic. Americans about to leave on flights bound for Europe ditched their plans out of fear they wouldnt be able to get back, while Americans abroad panicked and scrambled to return home. The administration had done little to actually implement the ban and to make sure it was done safely. Who would enforce the restrictions? Who would decide the method for screening travelers health? Who would ensure knowledgeable teams were available at airports to receive what would no doubt be thousands of Americans seeking to return home? At the same time, the ground was shifting in communities across the country, just as Nancy Messonnier had predicted two weeks earlier. All manner of businessesfrom law firms and Fortune 500 companies to manufacturing plants and hotelsbegan telling their nonessential workers to stay home until further notice. State and municipal officials started announcing bans on large gatherings and forcing the closure of schools, restaurants, gyms, and other businesses where people congregate. Doctors complained they could not conduct tests on patients they suspected were infected because of very narrow CDC testing guidelines. Local leaders complained about the terribly small supply of tests, not to mention the long delays to receive results. An enormous coronavirus data-track operation managed by Johns Hopkins University produced daily counts on U.S. testing and new cases of infections, which showed the United States lagging terribly behind other countries. The virus was spreading silently through communities. O n March 12, Fauci and Redfield testified at a House Oversight Committee hearing about the testing problem that was sparking considerable outrage. They acknowledged that a CDC coronavirus test that was supposed to be a model for public health labs to copy had been delivering inconclusive resultsa glitch they were working to fix. But the bigger problem was that the public health system hadnt invested in producing a massive supply of tests for new pathogens at a rapid rate. It relied largely on the private sector, which only rushed to make tests on its own timetable and based on its own bottom line. So far, Fauci and Redfield told the lawmakers, only about eleven thousand Americans had been tested for coronavirus in the first seven weeks of the outbreak. That was less than the roughly twenty thousand tests South Korea was then conducting daily. That is a failing, Fauci said. Lets admit it. Failing was not a word Trump was going to let stand. The next day, at a White House news conference, the president tried to correct the medias conclusionbased on hard data and bolstered by Faucis admissionthat the U.S testing program was a failure and being rapidly outrun by the virus. When asked by NBCs Kristen Welker if he took any responsibility for the slow rate of testing, Trump replied, No, I dont take responsibility at all. Trump was derided on talk shows and on editorial board pages for his denial of responsibility. It was eating him up. And then over the weekend, scenes of chaos overtook the nations busiest airports. Terminals were packed with hundreds of anxious international passengers, who were queried as part of enhanced entry screenings. Delayed and rerouted flights to and from Europe only added to the dysfunction. And there was no coherent messaging from Washington. Photos of mayhem at Chicagos OHare International Airport taken by frustrated travelers went viral on social media. Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker, a Democrat, went ballistic as he saw the images and heard reports from OHare. He tried calling the White House but couldnt get through to anyone with answers. Late at night on March 14, he tweeted directly at Trump and Pence: The crowds and lines OHare are unacceptable and need to be addressed immediately. @realDonaldTrump @VP since this is the only communication medium you pay attention toyou need to do something NOW. Pritzker added in a follow-up tweet, The federal government needs to get its s@Nt together. NOW. Later that evening, Pritzker got an apology from an official at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And he got a call from a midlevel White House aide, Doug Hoelscher, the director of intergovernmental affairs, who berated the governor. Hoelscher told Pritzker it was irresponsible and juvenile to tweet angry tweets and to criticize the president. Are you kidding me? the flabbergasted governor said. Pritzker pointed out to Hoelscher that his boss, Trump, was a proud Twitter harasser. Pritzker and other governors at the time had been scrambling to get ventilators as well as personal protective equipment and other medical supplies into their states. On a March 16 conference call with the nations governors, Trump effectively told them they were on their own and not to think of the federal government as stocking clerks. Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipmenttry getting it yourselves, Trump said. We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself. Governors listening in were surprised. At a time of national crisis, the commander in chief was abdicating responsibility to the states. I just got a pit in my stomach, Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, later recalled. Like, wow, were really on our own here. We better get to work. Theres no one else coming, as they say in the military. Later in the day on March 16, Trump rolled out detailed public health guidanceunder the banner 15 Days to Slow the Spreadrecommending closing schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, and other such venues, and limiting gatherings to no more than ten people. The presidents demeanor was notably changed from his previous coronavirus briefings, as when he had promised six days earlier that it will all go away. This time, Trump was deadly serious. We have an invisible enemy, the president said, adding, This is a very bad one. B y the middle of that week, after days of coverage of the airport chaos and of his failure to take responsibility for the testing problems, Trump had had enough. On the morning of March 18, just after 8:30, Azar took a call from the boss unlike any hed had in his career. As he rode to the White House for another task-force meeting, Azar answered his cell phone and took the equivalent of a sustained lions roar in the face. The president never even said hello. Alex, testing is killing me, Trump bellowed. Its going to lose me the election! What idiot decided to have the federal government do testing? Azar was taken aback, both by the volume of Trumps yelling and the mention of testing. Nearly a week earlier, Kushner had arranged a Rose Garden news conference to roll out a half-baked plan for streamlined drive-through testing sites across the country. Azar thought well of Kushner, but also felt the announcement was largely for the appearance of action without any real action. He assumed the president was referring to that. Um, the whole testing idea was Jareds, Mr. President, Azar said. Jared didnt fuck this up, Trump retorted. Who fucked this up? Jared is the one fixing your problem. Why is the CDC doing testing? Azar explained that the CDC had a duty to create tests whenever a new pathogen was detected, to help create a model for public health labs and hospitals. And he noted that every major country did the same thing. CDC never should have done this. Never! Trump yelled. He added, We should have left this to the states and the private sector. We shouldnt have owned this. With that, Trumps concern was coming into focus. Who is responsible for this disaster of testing? Trump demanded. Who did the testing? Well, it was the CDC, Azar said, thinking to himself that this fact had been well established in many of Trumps previous briefings. So who does CDC report to? Trump asked. Was the president playing him, or poking him for sport? The question hung there. Two months into a pandemic, after multiple meetings and briefings, was it possible the president didnt know the chain of command for the critical public health agencies on the front lines? It reports to me, Azar finally said. Well, then. I have my answer, Trump said with a harumph. This was gross incompetence. Just gross incompetence. The president was furious at the CDC, and his primary reason was not that it created a contaminated and malfunctioning COVID test that took weeks to fix, not that America lacked enough tests that could have traced and controlled the spread. He was angry because the CDC had created a political problem for him by agreeing to create a test for the virus in the first place. Barely missing a beat, the president spun to another topic. Larry Ellison called me. He tells me remdesivir works, Trump said. So get the FDA to approve it today. And Laura says chloroquine works as a cure. So the FDA has to approve it also. He was referring to the Oracle founder and to Laura Ingraham, the Fox News Channel host. Azar, still a little punch drunk from the testing conversation, explained the FDA didnt do same-day approvals of drugs or therapies and that it would have to conduct studies to make sure the drugs were safe. Larry, hes the smartest person I know, Trump said. He says its safe. Get it approved. Just because Laura Ingraham takes chloroquine when she goes to Africa, just because Larry Ellison is extremely smart, doesnt mean we can approve it, Azar said. We do what is called clinical trials to study this. We are literally putting it in peoples bodies. It has to be safe. Azar explained that chloroquine treatments, including hydroxychloroquine, were antimalarial drugs that had shown a risk of serious side effects, including blindness, liver toxicity, and heart issues. Although some doctors were prescribing it, the FDA had not approved hydroxychloroquine for safe treatment for the coronavirus. No, these products are safe, Trump said. Laura says she takes it all the time and nothing happens. Just approve them. I want these approved today. Azar was an intense, detail-oriented former CEO and lawyer. Though he and the president had often disagreed, Trumps treatment of him had reached a degrading level he had never expected when he joined the Cabinet. Plenty of critics felt Azar was Machiavellian, always looking for credit and dodging blame, and he could be hard with his subordinates, some of whom chafed at his demands and felt undermined by him. But Azar felt he was being wronged, too. He had worked hard for the president, fought to get him to pay attention to the virus when it grew serious, gotten blamed for mistakes he didnt consider his own, and been crucified on Capitol Hill for boneheaded positions the White House forced him to take. Riding to the White House after the president hung up, Azar had never felt more demoralized. When he walked into the West Wing, Azar paid a visit to Meadows to brief the new chief of staff on his heated conversation with Trump and discuss the very real possibility he might be fired. Meadows listened silently as Azar recounted the presidents tirade. There are many people in the White House who want you removed, but the president has not brought it up with me, Meadows said. Azar and Meadows believed they knew who those people were. They thought Grogan and Short, among others, were gunning for him. Azar decided to set some boundaries with Meadows, in case the president decided to follow through on his critics wishes. If he ever tweets against me, I will quit that day. I will never let myself become a Jeff Sessions, Azar said, referring to Trumps first attorney general, whom he had tormented relentlessly for more than a year before firing him in November 2018. Azar also warned Meadows about the political risk of trying to make him a scapegoat for the administrations coronavirus response. The outside world views me as the competent one, Azar said. Meadows listened, appearing to size up Azars points. I got you, buddy, he said. After a few moments, Meadows said: We gotta figure out how we work on rehabilitating you over here. Listen, you have to follow the law, but you gotta do something to show the president were making therapies available. The media is showing all these people being cured from these therapies. Even zinc. We should approve all these products that the media say work. T rump was increasingly worried about what the pandemic was doing to his political standing and reached out to an old friend for advice. He called Chris Christie, who had been one of the first establishment Republicans to endorse his candidacy in 2016 and had stood by him through scandals aplenty, and asked him to come to the White House. No ones better in a crisis than you. I need you down here, Trump told Christie, who had won bipartisan plaudits for his aggressive and empathetic leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. On March 19, Christie drove himself to Washington from New Jersey and spent about ninety minutes with the president in the Oval Office. They were alone most of the time, other than the roughly ten minutes when Pence joined them, and brief appearances by Kellyanne Conway and Pat Cipollone. Christie tried to appeal to Trump to rethink his approach to the coronavirus. There is a way to handle a crisis where you meet peoples expectations regardless of how the crisis is playing out, Christie said. The way to do that is they expect you to be out there. They expect you to prove to them that you understand why theyre afraid and that no matter how long it takes youre going to fix the problem. But youre not doing that, Christie continued. Youre telling people that its going to just go away, its going to magically go away. People dont want to hear that. You tell people that weve got it under control, but its clear that we dont, and so Im very concerned that what youre doing is youre setting yourself up for failure and that people will not believe you after a while. Im not going to scare people, Trump said. Its not my job. My job is to reassure people and not scare them. Yeah, but you only reassure them with the truth, not with the stuff that they know from a common-sense perspective cant be true, Christie replied. No, its not under control. No, its not just going to go away magically one day. They know that. Thats commonsensical. Its not like medical training. You just know that. By the way, Christie added, if it does, you get all the freaking credit anyway. Who cares? But if you go further out there, extend yourself in terms of your level of concern, your level of preparedness for what the worst-case scenario is, you can always bring it back. If you go short of the mark in the beginning, you cant ever extend it. Trump told Christie he would rather tell them its going to go away. Chris, when the weather gets warm, its going to go away. Mr. President, if that happens, youll get credit for it, Christie said. You dont need to keep saying it. Talk about it as if its serious, and if it gets better, you win anyway. Play worst-case on this. Christie encouraged Trump to reframe his presidency around the pandemic as a way to inspire all Americans, not just Republicans, to rally behind him. Say, You know, up until today the position of president was a job, but now its a mission, and Im not going to leave here until the mission is completed, Christie said. Thats what I said during Sandy: Being governor was a joba great job, but it was a job. Now its a mission, and Im not going to let anybody knock me off of the mission that I have to accomplish for the people of New Jersey, which is to rebuild the state that we love. Say it over and over and over and over and over again and people believe it because you keep saying it over and over again, because it comes from a place thats seen as genuine. Trump nodded as he listened, but was noncommittal. It was clear the president didnt buy into Christies advice. L ike many other big states, Illinois was running low on ventilators, masks, gowns, and other supplies and equipment. Pritzker repeatedly had asked the Trump administration for help but seemed to get nowhere. The governor had reached his last resort and decided to call the president. Pritzker loathed Trump. Campaigning for governor in 2018, he would assail the president in his stump speeches as racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and xenophobic. Curiously, though, Trump had a soft spot for Pritzker. He was a multibillionaire, and Trump liked to suck up to the uber-rich. The Pritzker family, one of Americas wealthiest, founded and developed the Hyatt hotel chain, and New Yorks Grand Hyatt was one of Trumps proudest real estate deals. In December 2018, when Pritzker and other governors-elect first visited the White House following their elections, Trump made a beeline past Floridas Ron DeSantis and other political allies to shake hands with the Democrat from Chicago. J. B., you come from a great family. A great family, Trump said, patting Pritzker on the shoulder. Congratulations on your win, and I just want you to know, you come from a great family. Now at a loss for how to bring supplies into Illinois, Pritzker called Trump on March 23 in an attempt to play to the presidents ego. He wrote out a script for himself, knowing he might get angry and wanting to stay calm and collected. Like you, Mr. President, Im a former businessman, Pritzker told Trump. I normally dont like government interfering with the commercial market. But with regard to ventilators and PPE, if you could invoke the [Defense Production Act], it would stop the price gouging and put some order into the market. As it is, states are competing with each other and against foreign countries, too. You have the power to save lives, to control distribution of these goods, and we need your help. What do you need? Trump asked. Pritzker ticked through his list, from masks to ventilators to gowns and gloves. Let me see what I can do, Trump said, and ended the call. About half an hour later, Pritzkers phone rang. It was Peter Navarro, Trumps trade adviser, who had taken on a new role coordinating manufacturing and Defense Production Act policies. I think I can help you out, Navarro told the governor. Ive got three hundred ventilators in our private stock and I can send those to you. And Ive got three hundred thousand N95 masks. I can get those out of our private stock and I can get them to you in Trump time. Wow, Trump time? Pritzker replied. That sounds pretty fast. When do you think we could see those? Ill get it to you by Sunday, Navarro said, which was six days later. He had one favor to ask of Pritzker, according to people with knowledge of the conversation: Make sure when youre on TV next you are grateful to the president. Navarro denied that he asked Pritzker to praise Trump and said he only asked the governor to tone down his partisan rhetoric. Nothing arrived on Sunday. When the federal shipment showed up several days late, it contained the three hundred ventilators, but the three hundred thousand masks were of the surgical variety, not nearly as efficacious as N95 masks. Navarro told Pritzker he would investigate what went wrong with the order. A couple of weeks later, Navarro called Pritzker to follow up. Listen, Ive got six hundred gallons of hand sanitizer, he told the governor. Do you need hand sanitizer? Pritzker needed N95 masks, not hand sanitizer. He accepted the shipment, happy to just get something from Washington. But Trump time, he concluded, was nothing more than a clever and deceptive sales pitch. Five Rebelling Against the Experts P resident Trump decided on March 16 to effectively shut down the country for fifteen days. But the doctors on his task force knew they would need more time to control the spread of the coronavirus. They immediately started working to convince Trump to extend the lockdown. Mark Meadows, Steven Mnuchin, Larry Kudlow, and other advisers, who believed the shutdown would mean unnecessarily destroying the economy, opposed them. Trump, who saw the economy as key to his reelection chances, was predisposed to agree. He made that much clear on March 23 when, amid the administrations review of extending shutdown recommendations, he tweeted in all caps, WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. The country at this point was gripped by fear, and the president fixated on being the savior. When NBCs Peter Alexander asked him at the March 20 coronavirus briefing, What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared, Trump snapped. I say that you are a terrible reporter. Thats what I say. I think its a very nasty question. I think its a very bad signal that you are putting out to the American people. Theyre looking for answers and theyre looking for hope. And youre doing sensationalism. Trump had never managed to show empathy during his presidency, and even in this crisis, he still did not summon compassion for others. The president decided he wanted the country to reopen and arbitrarily picked a date of April 12, which happened to be Easter, because he assumed voters would be heartened by images of church pews packed with parishioners on Easter Sunday and families out celebrating over brunch in neighborhood restaurants. Some of his advisers warned him this could be perilous. Mr. President, this is a huge mistake, Kellyanne Conway told him. You dont own the deaths right now, but youll own all the deaths if you do this. Easter Sunday, Conway argued, was too soon. You cant put an artificial date on reopening the economy. No, no, no, Trump replied. We have to open. Its killing people. I get it, Conway said. But we cant even see this virus. Its transmitted through the air. And if you reopen now, youll own it. As a counterweight to the economic and political concerns dominating the thinking inside the White House, Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, Robert Redfield, and Stephen Hahn formed an alliance. They began meeting as a doctors group three to four times a week to strategize for when they faced off later against Meadows, Mnuchin, Kudlow, and others at the broader task-force meetings. Birx and Fauci analyzed publicly available data, including from the CDC, to model dire projections of deaths without continued social distancing and other mitigation efforts. As many as 1.6 million to 2.2 million Americans would die, their analysis showed, whereas by continuing the lockdown the estimated fatality total would be 100,000 to 240,000. They presented the findings to Trump, arguing that keeping restrictions in place would save lives. Birx knew that Trump was moved by anecdotes and personal connections, and at the time, Elmhurst Hospital, a public hospital in Queens near where he grew up, was being overrun with COVID cases. Cable news channels were showing footage from Elmhurst of body bags piling up. These hospitals that are serving our most vulnerable Americans are all over the United States, Birx told Trump. We have six thousandplus hospitals in the United States. You could, right off the bat, have a thousand Elmhursts. Are you sure that this will create more Elmhursts? Trump asked her, referring to a spike in cases if the economy reopened prematurely. Yes, Im sure, Birx said. Trump was persuaded. On March 29, the president announced from the Rose Garden that the strict federal guidelines that effectively shut down businesses would be extended for an additional thirty days, through April 30. Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won, Trump said. That would be the greatest loss of all. Trump said the ghastly scenes from Elmhurst helped convince him. Ive been watching that for the last week on television, body bags all over in hallways, Trump said. I have been watching them bring in trailer trucks, freezer trucksthey are freezer trucks because they cant handle the bodies, there are so many of them. This is essentially in my community in QueensQueens, New York. I have seen things Ive never seen before. I mean, Ive seen them, but Ive seen them on television in faraway lands. The doctors had prevailed, but their win would prove short-lived. M ax Kennedy Jr. was an unlikely candidate to work for the Trump administrations coronavirus responseunlikely both because he was a lifelong Democrat and a grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and because he was twenty-six years old and had neither expertise in public health nor experience in crisis management. But that didnt stop Jared Kushner from bringing Kennedy on board, along with roughly a dozen other twentysomething consultants and private-equity analysts. Kushner figured these financial whiz kids, volunteering directly for him and outside the strictures of government health agencies, could bust through bureaucratic logjams and solve problems like the supply chain for personal protective equipment. If only it had been that easy. Kennedy said that when he first reported to work on March 22, he stepped into chaos. He was assigned to the sourcing team, meaning his job would be to source test kits, hand sanitizer, masks, and other equipment from manufacturers overseas. He and the other volunteers cold-called factories in China on their personal cell phones asking if they would sell goods to the U.S. government. He said they conducted business over their Gmail accounts and had to copy someone with a .gov email address to confirm they were reaching out on behalf of the government. They werent dummies; Kennedy had graduated from Harvard and worked as a consultant at McKinsey and Company before joining Insight Partners, a midsized equity firm. But he and the other volunteers were the first to admit they had no idea what they were doing. The supervisor on this sourcing project, Rachael Baitel, didnt know much more. She was a former executive assistant to Ivanka Trump and Goldman Sachs analyst. No one on the team had existing manufacturing relationships or was versed in FDA regulations or understood federal procurement policies. Kennedy said that another superior in the operation, Michael Duffey, instructed him never to put anything in writing to himno emails, no text messages. Kennedy thought that was strange, then he Googled Duffey and learned he had been the Office of Management and Budget official who withheld aid to Ukraine, and some of his emails had become evidence in Trumps impeachment investigation. The volunteers worked out of the Federal Emergency Management Administrations headquarters, where khaki-clad employees nicknamed the newcomers the Slim Suit Crowd for their natty attire. In the West Wing, Kushners group was mocked more derisively; that whizbang crew of numb nuts was how one senior official described it. In their FEMA offices, nobody wore masks or socially distanced. When Vice President Pence visited them, he walked around a small conference room shaking peoples hands and patting them on the back, as if the virus somehow couldnt penetrate their bubble. Kushner was a self-styled fixer, establishing himself as the administrations key conduit for federal agency officials, state governors, and business executivesespecially when it came to the PPE supply chain. The thirty-nine-year-old had only ever worked in real estate and had no expertise in international logistics. He had never marshaled a response to a crisis, much less a pandemic. But because of his exalted status as husband to the presidents favorite child, Kushner carried himself with supreme confidence and could spur swift responses from across the administration, where ones power was measured by loyalty and proximity to Trump. He gave his cell-phone number to government procurement officials and instructed them to communicate directly with him to approve international orders. Kushner wanted money to be wired to manufacturers within minutes, not days, lest the United States lose out to another country, and he personally called the chief executive officers of FedEx and UPS to deploy their planes to deliver freight. Kushner would pay frequent visits to the volunteer team and issue decrees. He had an air of self-importance, as if he alone could bust through barriers. When volunteers flagged problems, Kushner vowed to get them solved right away. Some things got fixed, but chaos endured. Kushner expected his team to follow up on every lead about sourcing or delivering PPE. Kennedy said the team became easily distracted by incoming ideas or requests from VIPs, which the volunteers had been instructed to prioritizeincluding an email from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban; repeated calls and emails from the Fox News Channel host Jeanine Pirro requesting a hundred thousand masks be redirected to a hospital she favored; a lead on PPE procurement from Charlie Kirk, a Trump loyalist who founded Turning Point USA, a network of young conservative activists; and a lead from Tana Goertz, a former contestant on The Apprentice. Brad Smith, the deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was a trusted ally of Kushners and took on a special assignment working with the volunteers. The CDC data modeled by Birx and Fauci suggested a far more catastrophic scenario than Kushner and other political advisers to Trump wanted to believe. Kennedy said Smith asked him and another volunteer to devise a new model. I dont know anything about disease modeling, Kennedy told Smith. Thats okay, Smith said. Just put a growth rate on it and make sure it ends up at the right numbers. It just needs to be a model that shows a worst case of one hundred thousand people dying and a low case of twenty thousand. Look around. Does it feel like two hundred fifty thousand people are going to die? Kennedy recalled, I was looking around like, Im in a FEMA building, theres military officers everywhere. To me, this feels pretty serious. Smith disputed Kennedys description of their conversation. The only model I asked the team to build in late March and early April 2020 was a model to project PPE needs through July 2020, Smith said. To calculate PPE needs, the model used hospitalizations and deaths as inputs. The mean version of the model assumed one hundred sixty-nine thousand deaths by July 2020 and the worst-case version of the model assumed three hundred twelve thousand deaths by July 2020. According to the CDC, there were approximately one hundred sixty thousand deaths as of July 30, so the models assumptions proved to be very accurate. Three weeks in, Kennedy resigned, distressed and disgusted by his experience. He filed a whistleblower complaint to the House Oversight Committee, hoping that Congress might investigate what he saw as malfeasance on the part of Trumps political appointees. Kennedy refused to follow through on Smiths order, but political appointees cooked up a fatality model to satisfy Trumps alternate reality. Unbeknownst to Birx at the time, Kevin Hassett, an economist who had served as Trumps chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers until 2019, returned to the White House with a special assignment: to work with a small team and quietly build an econometric model to show far fewer fatalities. Birx continued to toil in her windowless closet of an office on the ground floor of the West Wing, analyzing CDC data to present to the task force. But shortly after Trump agreed to extend the shutdown guidelines, Birx found her projections of rising numbers of infections and deaths undercut by the rogue Hassett model, which many in the White House interpreted to suggest the death toll would peak by mid-April and then drop off substantially. It was embraced by Kushner and guided the mindset inside the White House to prioritize the economy over public health. The Hassett model affirmed the skepticism of many of Trumps political advisers of the severity of the virus. Meadows also routinely challenged Birxs data analysis. Debbie, I dont know what this data is, he said in a task-force meeting. It seems specious to me. Channeling Trumps instincts to focus on the economy, the chief of staff argued, Weve got to get moving again. Weve got to open things up. Soon, Birx found her access to Trump cut off. She was no longer invited regularly into the Oval Office and was asked to brief Pence instead. Birx had a relatively productive relationship with Kushner, though in some meetings he aggressively challenged the veracity of her data and questioned her analysis, as if to suggest he knew more about infectious disease and epidemiology than she did. Frustrated by the office politics, Birx asked Grogan, one of the few White House officials she had known before the virus hit, what Kushner was really like. Look, Debbie, hes not like anybody youve worked with, Grogan said. Hes not like a four-star general whos going to scream at you and call you Sugar Tits and be a prick. Hes not like any asshole who lies and misrepresents data. He is a zero-sum-game motherfucker from New York. And if you cant get your head around that, it is not going to go well for you. M ichael Caputo had gotten used to life in lockdown in East Aurora, a picturesque village outside of Buffalo, New York. He sat at home with his wife and six- and eight-year-old kids watching Governor Andrew Cuomos daily news conference, then Trumps daily news conference, taking notes when something seemed important. Caputo was especially freaked out about catching COVID-19. He went grocery shopping in a mask and goggles, and when he returned home he stripped down in the mudroom and put his clothes in a plastic bag so he wouldnt risk the contagion spreading among his family. He would tell neighbors, If youre not wearing a mask, youre part of the problem. Caputo cut an unusual figure as a public health evangelist. A former conservative radio commentator, he was a longtime fixture in Trump World, having started as Trumps driver and worked on Trumps 2014 bid to buy the Buffalo Bills, before becoming a communications adviser on his 2016 presidential campaign. Caputo, who had personal and business ties in Moscow, had been ensnared as a witness in the Russia investigation. One day in early April, Caputo was sitting at his kitchen table eating lunch when his phone rang. It was the president. I need help, Trump said. Do you want to join the administration? Well, sure, Caputo replied. Johnnys right here, Trump said, referring to Johnny McEntee, the twenty-nine-year-old director of presidential personnel whom Trump had empowered to root out his perceived enemies from government and to seed the bureaucracy with loyalists. We want to know if you want to be assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS and help with the communications on COVID. Theyre all fucked up. Sure, Caputo said. The sound that you hear is my pen to paper, so pack your bags, Trump said. McEntee then texted Caputo, Were counting on you, and a week later Caputo was in the White House being sworn in, with McEntee standing at his side. The location of Caputos swearing-in symbolized the fact that he was Trumps choice and would have personal access to the president. In fact, Caputos boss, Azar, had no role in hiring him and was surprised by the appointment. At the time, Azar was taking incoming arrows from several administration officials, and in particular from Grogan. Azar quickly began to confide in Caputo and seek his help trying to hold on to his job and rehabilitate his image. In huddles with Caputo, Azar would lose his temper about Grogan and complain about negative news stories as a Grogan trap or a Grogan hit piece, convinced that his West Wing rival was leaking damaging information about him to reporters. When he got especially worked up, Azar would talk like a hen, bobbing and pecking his head, his voice growing ever higher and louder. Fuck this, Azar would tell Caputo, pacing back and forth in his office. This is the end. I cant believe this is happening. This is so fucking unfair. Fucking Grogan. Caputo figured Azar would become the fall guy for the administrations early failure to control the virus. This was reinforced by Trumps comments. The president would call Caputo and ask, Hows Alex doing? What do you think of Alex? This was a tell tale sign that Trump was losing confidence. But Caputo tried to stick up for Azar. Hes on board with your program, he told Trump. Hes always going to be throwing punches for you. And Caputo would try to get positive comments about Azar into stories in the five newspapers he knew Trump read in print: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and the New York Daily News. Even if it put him at odds with Trump, Caputo believed one of his missions at HHS was to help share public health information, and he thought the best messengers were the doctorsfirst and foremost, Fauci. So he tried to cultivate a partnership with Fauci, who had him at his home near American University in Northwest Washington for breakfast early in his tenure. It was 6:30 a.m., and Fauci welcomed Caputo to his deck, where they removed their masks, sat overlooking a leafy backyard, and had scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. They got to talking about Trump, and Fauci surprised Caputo when he said, I have nothing personal against the president. I certainly dont dislike him; in fact, he has some things about him that are attractive. The coronavirus task force is a battle of ideas, Fauci said. Theres a lot of disagreement on the task force and we try to reach consensus by the end of the meetings. B y early April, Joe Biden was the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and had his sights set squarely on Trump. Out of the makeshift television studio he built in the basement of his home in Wilmington, Delaware, the former vice president assailed Trumps management of the pandemic. Polls showed Trump had lost the small bumps in job approval he saw in February and March following his acquittal in the impeachment trial and the early outbreaks of the virus. Now, Trump trailed Biden, in whom voters had greater confidence to steer the country out of the converging health and economic crises. Trumps campaign advisers test-drove lines of attack against Biden, which ranged from hinting that at the advanced age of seventy-eight there were signs of senility in Bidens behavior, to suggesting his son Hunter was corrupt, to criticizing his background as a lifelong career politician. None seemed to move the needle much, so long as the president failed to manage the crises of the day. Still, Brad Parscale believed the key to a Trump victory would be a relentlessly negative assault on Biden. Weve got to make Biden look bad and make the country see him as a good ole Uncle Joe, Parscale advised Trump. We should make him look like a pedophile, womanizing, senile guy who cant keep his wits together. Trump thought that line of attack was fruitful. In fact, the president had long ago nicknamed Biden Sleepy Joe and routinely cast doubt on his mental acuity. He enjoyed when his campaign used images of Biden that made him look old and ugly. But Trump did not want his campaign spending much money on advertisements about his challenger. He wanted the advertising budget to primarily be spent promoting himself. Trump wanted the election to be a referendum on himself and what a great job he was doing as president. Besides, Trump thought he could count on Bill Barr to fire the magic bullet. For all of 2019, the attorney general had been the presidents golden boy. As Dan Scavino once explained to Barr, In the Cabinet, youre up here and everyone else is down here. Scavino raised an arm above his head before lowering it. Trump liked Barrs smarts, toughness, and willingness to fight on his behalf. Two moves stood out for Trump: Barrs suggestion to the public that Robert Muellers Russia investigation had found no evidence of obstruction of justice by the president, when in fact the opposite was true; and his subsequent appointment of prosecutor John Durham to investigate the origins of the FBIs 2016 probe of the Trump campaign. The president thought that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation had been launched by a corrupt FBI to frame him. He assumed Durham would produce evidence proving it and perhaps prosecute former FBI director James Comey, former CIA director John Brennan, and other top Obama administration officials. Trump hoped this would give him an edge in his reelection. On April 8, 2020, Barr made the unusual prediction that Durhams far-from-finished investigation would prove the FBI engaged in gross misconduct and abused their power in their pursuit of Trump. What happened to him was one of the greatest travesties in American history, Barr told Laura Ingraham in a Fox News interview. Without any basis, they started this investigation of his campaign, and even more concerning actually is what happened after the campaigna whole pattern of events while he was president . . . to sabotage the presidencyor at least have the effect of sabotaging the presidency. Many prosecutors and Justice Department alumni felt their skin crawl. Here he goes again, they said, Barr trying to use the departments powers to give Trump some political ammunition. Normally prosecutors didnt breathe a word about an ongoing investigation. Comey had endured a public tarring from Republicans and Democrats alike for violating that norm as FBI director when in 2016 he had discussed the investigation of Hillary Clintons use of a private email system for her government work. Trump had been antsy to see Durhams findingsand by giving him the false hope that it might wrap up soon, Barr had made a tactical error. The attorney general had wanted to put the pedal to the metal on this probe, as he told aides, and release findings well before the election. But two things dramatically slowed Durhams progress. The Connecticut prosecutor had to hold off on much of his work while the Justice Departments inspector general finished an overlapping investigation in December 2019. Then came the coronavirus, which made convening grand juries and traveling the world to interrogate witnesses rather difficult. But Trump didnt let up. He repeatedly pressed Meadows to ask Barr what was going on with the Durham investigation. Though he did not direct Barr to indict anyone specifically, the president frequently brought up the probe during their Oval Office meetings that spring. His questions were frequently some version of, When do you think something might come out of that? Barr didnt feel comfortable responding with details and tried to manage the presidents expectations. He would provide responses like, Mr. President, whether or not John Durham indicts somebody is not going to affect this election outcome. It makes us look weak, Trump often grumped. Bringing his enemies to justice, the president argued, showed strength. B y mid-April, as U.S. deaths from the coronavirus topped thirty thousand, Trump faced a political imperative to find someone to blame. Trumps search for a scapegoat fit a pattern of his presidency. Hes never at fault for anything, explained David Lapan, a former senior official in Trumps Department of Homeland Security. Its Faucis fault. Its Chinas fault. Its Obamas fault. Its always someone else, somewhere else. He doesnt want to hear the bad news. He doesnt take responsibility for the bad news and wants to gloss over it and change the subject. Trump decided to use his trademark hyperbole to draw a bulls-eye for the American people around the real villains: China and the World Health Organization. On April 14, he formally announced he was suspending U.S. funding to the WHO while his administration conducted a review of the groups role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus. He argued that the WHO failed to call out Chinas lack of transparency about the Wuhan outbreak, although he had repeatedly praised Chinas handling of the virus in January and February. Trumps blame game was easily chalked up to a preelection push to sidestep his own role in failing to protect Americans. But in several corners of government, many career experts agreed with the facts behind Trumps critique. Officials who vehemently disagreed with each other on other coronavirus decisions were aligned in finding fault in the WHO for parroting Chinas lies and shielding it from scrutiny. Mike Pompeo, Robert OBrien, and Matt Pottinger repeatedly stressed to the president that the WHO had blood on its hands. I believe the whole world is the collateral damage of the way China handled this episode, Pottinger told colleagues. Redfield, too, was increasingly convinced Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had stonewalled him in trying to get a CDC team into China early on. He told confidants he had to conclude the WHO had not been an honest broker. Some administration officials homed in on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a prestigious Chinese lab recognized for its expertise on bat coronaviruses. Pottinger, Pompeo, and other top national security officials had been urging government investigators and intelligence officials to look more deeply into a theory percolating among Chinese-based scientists and right-wing U.S. media figures that the Wuhan lab had either accidentally or intentionally leaked the novel coronavirusSARS-CoV-2into the world. The claim resembled the plot of a sci-fi thriller, but at least one part of it was firmly rooted in real risks at the lab. No serious person believed this was an intentional leak of a manufactured bioweapon by the Chinese, but several national security and intelligence officials believed an accident was possible and even likely. This was not the first time U.S. officials had concerns about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which China had designed as a world-class research facility to study some of the deadliest pathogens, especially coronaviruses. In early 2018, after State Department science diplomats had toured the lab, they warned U.S. officials that the lab suffered a serious shortage of staff with adequate containment training and needed help to meet the very high safety standards for the dangers they were handling. They also warned that a team led by Dr. Shi Zhengli, the well-known head of the labs bat virus research, was working with SARS-like coronaviruses they found could interact with human cell receptors and might easily transmit to people. Known as Chinas Bat Woman, Shi had been studying how coronaviruses could infect humans and manipulating the spike proteins that the virus used to enter human cells. After the outbreak in Wuhan, some argued it was just too much of a coincidence. The epicenter of the virus was in the same city that boasted one of the worlds largest repositories of coronavirus specimens. Perhaps the virus accidentally infected lab staff. Shi has angrily dismissed the idea that her lab had anything to do with the novel virus. But Trumps intelligence officers reported that they had credible information indicating some Wuhan lab workers had suffered COVID symptoms in the fall of 2019. If true, they would have been the earliest known cases of infection. The intelligence community briefed Trump in late March that it had revised its classified assessment from early January that the outbreak probably occurred naturally. Now they were adding the possibility that the new coronavirus emerged accidentally due to unsafe laboratory practices at either the Wuhan Institute of Virology or its partner lab near the Wuhan market. Trump found it hard to keep this new intelligence to himself. He brought it up with campaign advisers, domestic policy aides, and health officials. On April 18, Trump confirmed at a White House coronavirus press briefing that intelligence agencies were digging into evidence that suggested an accident or shoddy conditions at the Wuhan lab were connected to the outbreak. A lot of people are looking at it, he told reporters. It seems to make sense. But the assessment was greeted with deep suspicion in the scientific community and in the media. Trump and some of his allies were looking for a scapegoat, and a Chinese lab screw-up provided a convenient one. Critics of the Wuhan lab theory discounted the warnings from Pottinger, who was well known as a skeptic of nearly everything the Chinese government claimed, as a China-hawk fever dream. But Pottinger knew from past experience not to automatically buy what Beijing was selling. When he was a reporter in Beijing, the Chinese government covered up a 2004 accident at a Beijing lab studying SARS and similar coronaviruses, which led to an outbreak that infected nine people and killed at least one. To try to suss out the likely sources of the virus, Pottinger consulted with doctors and other experts he had met while covering the 2003 SARS outbreak. Pottinger also got a summary from the NSCs virology expert, Philip Ferro, about how zoonotic diseases typically jumped from animals to humans and spread through a population. Sifting through the information he received from SARS experts, intelligence reports, and Ferro, he was taken aback by three key facts. What Pottinger didnt know at this early stage was that the director of the CDC was zeroing in on those same facts with increasing conviction that a lab leak was the likely source of this unusually lethal and contagious virus. First, COVID-19 had in a few weeks time become a zoonotic pathogen that boasted one of the most rapid and efficient transmissions of any virus in modern human history. That was not normal for zoonotic viruses that jumped from animal to human. An animal host of the virus, like a bat, could potentially infect another animal species, which would then infect a human. The virus could make the next animal species very ill and even kill them. But this type of virus that jumped from animal to human had a much harder time replicatingand spreading rapidly. Second, though the Chinese government claimed the virus emanated from a seafood market in Wuhan that also sold wild and exotic game, a team of scientists in China published research in January noting that a sizable portion of the initial cluster of cases in Wuhan had no known contact with the market. Later research would establish that this quickly embraced and dominant theory about the viruss sourcethat it started at the wet marketwas almost certainly wrong. Third, the Wuhan lab had a Level Four designation, giving it permission to handle the riskiest biohazards despite the U.S. governments earlier concerns about the labs safety. Its sister lab, down the street from the market, had a much lower Level Two designation and harvested bat viruses. Redfield shared Pottingers concernsbut he was assessing these facts as a seasoned virologist, not as a national security expert suspicious of China. He strongly believed the Wuhan lab was the source, but primarily because he knew from years of lab work that a virus jumping from animal to human had never replicated and spread as easily as COVID-19 had. Over time a chorus of scientists studying the virus would agree that theyd never seen a virus like this one. Interestingly, scientists began to learn something else as they studied the novel coronaviruss spike protein that helped the virus enter a human cell and invade its host: their spikes were amazingly adaptable and the most successful ever seen in their quest to attach to human cells. Zoonotic diseases that transition for the first time to man, these are not highly infectious to man, Redfield would explain to colleagues. This virus, in my view, is too infectious to man to assume that last January it jumped from bat to man. Redfield was clear that he didnt think the virus was released intentionally or deployed as a weapon but was unshakable in this belief that the lab was the coronaviruss epicenter: It unintentionally escaped, probably by infecting laboratory technicians. The origin of this potent virus would remain a mystery throughout the year. Many experts dismissed the lab-leak theory as highly unlikely, while a growing number of American and European scientists insisted it had never been properly investigated. Two profound failures prevented the world from knowing the answer about the origin. First, the Chinese government dissembled and tried to keep anyone outside the country from looking closely. Secondly, the Trump administration let China get away with that. This second flaw showcased Trumps consistent focus on optics over facts. His administration primarily deployed the lab theory as a useful anti-China talking point, a convenient boogeyman, rather than a hypothesis that required rigorous stress-testing and unimpeachable data. In the early days of the outbreak when it mattered most, the U.S. president did not demand that a CDC team be allowed into Wuhan to conduct an independent investigation that could have ruled a lab accident in or out. Trump was too busy touting his great relationship with President Xi Jinping and their trade deal. Even when Trump was later personally rebuffed in seeking to send in investigators, he still took no action to punish China or hold it to account. T hrough late March and early April, the president heard a steady drumbeat of anecdotal testimony that the untested, antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine could treat COVID-19. The evangelists in his ear ranged from Rudy Giuliani to Ingraham, who, with Meadowss help, arranged to bring doctors who were regular on-air guests on her Fox show to the White House for private meetings with Trump to talk up the drug. Hydroxychloroquine was still in the testing stages and not yet approved by the FDA as a treatment for COVID-19, although doctors were permitted to prescribe it to hospitalized patients. Medical professionals believed it had dangerous side effects, and Fauci privately pleaded with the president to be more cautious about advocating the drug. But Trump, who famously said he trusted his gut more than anything an expert could counsel him, was so desperate to make the virus disappear that he pitched the drug as a very special thing. What do you have to lose? the president asked again and again. Doctors around the country watching the presidents reckless promotion were stunned. If he wasnt the president, they noted, he could be prosecuted for off-label promotion of a drugpushing a medicine for an unauthorized and not fully tested use. In the pursuit of FDA emergency use authorizations for hydroxychloroquine and other therapeutics, Meadows was Trumps enforcer. He regularly browbeat Hahn, demanding to know why data from the clinical trials was not yet available. He wanted results immediately, and applied pressure on the FDA chief to speed up the process. Weve got to get it done, Meadows would tell Hahn. Youre not working fast enough. Hahn would explain that it took months to complete clinical trials and get data. Whats more, the FDA was concerned that with so many hospitalized COVID patients taking hydroxychloroquine, there was a sudden shortage of the drug for people with lupus, for which hydroxychloroquine was an approved treatment. Hahn was concerned about how political the hydroxychloroquine debate had become and worried it was a dry run for the pressure he fully expected to receive from Trump and Meadows to speed up FDA approval of vaccines before the election. He and Caputo went on walks along the National Mall to talk through the personalities and politics involved. They both agreed that if the White House tried to manipulate the FDA during the vaccine approval process, government scientists would sooner climb to the roof at the FDAs White Oak offices in suburban Maryland and light themselves on fire than take a political action. As Caputo joked with Hahn, None of those electric cars in the parking lot at White Oak have Trump bumper stickers. On April 13, Azar entered Meadowss office for a meeting and found him waving a spiral-bound report and yelling. If this goes out, the president will fire you, Meadows said. The report had been prepared by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci ran. It urged that there be Phase Three clinical trials of therapies, including hydroxychloroquine, that Trump wanted authorized immediately as miracle cures. Clinical trials would take timetime that Trump considered unnecessary and wasteful. Azar defended the multistage trials, explaining that the government endorsement of such therapies should rightly come only after thorough research on benefits, side effects, and unusual reactions. There was alarm in the scientific community that hydroxychloroquine, when combined with azithromycin, could cause heart arrhythmias. The president wants this now, Alex, Meadows said. It works. A senior member of the task force observed, Meadows was so consistently abusive, so dismissive of the medical professionalsrepeatedly. They deserved to be challenged and questioned, but kicking the shit out of them for your own amusement and trying to browbeat them was so counterproductive, and it was just an absolute disaster over time. Providing backup was Peter Navarro, the zealous trade adviser who had concluded that Hahn and the other task-force doctors had hydroxy hysteria. So he joined a task-force meeting around this time to try to strong-arm a consensus on approving hydroxychloroquine. Navarro arrived in the Situation Room with a stack of papers that he said were nearly two dozen retrospective reviews of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID treatment. Other officials questioned the credibility of the writings and noted that some were from Chinese doctors. Navarro handed Hahn the papers. Look, this is not high-level evidence to support what you want to do, Hahn said. We have to wait for the clinical trials to be done. I know the literature, Navarro said. This is highly supportive. Fauci jumped into the conversation to back up Hahn and explain that the evidence thus far was inconclusive. At that, Navarro challenged Faucis medical credentials and argued that he was the only task-force member who had read all of the studies about the drug. You have blood on your hands, Navarro told Hahn and Fauci, charging that many more Americans would die if they did not immediately approve hydroxychloroquine. The argument escalated until Pence put an end to it and the meeting broke up. Hahns and Faucis instincts proved right. On April 24, the FDA would caution against using hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 because of the risk of serious heart rhythm problems. And on June 15, the FDA would revoke its emergency use authorization because it was no longer believed to be effective against COVID-19. W hen Birx began work in March, she drew up a list of her top ten scientific questions about the coronavirus that she wanted to be able to answer for the public. One of them was simple: Does the virus still spread on surfaces outdoors? Scientists at the Department of Homeland Security set about trying to find Birx an answer. They tested different disinfectants outdoors, timed sunlight exposures, and tried to see how long the virus would last on an outdoor surface that people touch but that is blocked from sunlight, such as the undersurface of a swing set. The answer came on April 23, when one of the DHS scientists, William Bryan, came to the White House to brief the task force on their preliminary findings. He said the life span of droplets containing the virus was shorter when exposed to sunlight or heat, such as summer weather, and that it would be more practical for the government to encourage people to be active outdoors, though he cautioned that there was no proof that the virus was less contagious or spread less aggressively in warmer climates. After the task-force meeting broke up, some advisers went to the Oval Office to meet with Trump before his daily news conference. (Birx, who by then was cut out of most Oval meetings, went to her downstairs office.) They brought Bryan with them, figuring the president would be interested in hearing what he had to say. Indeed, he wasso much so that Trump asked Bryan to join him at the press briefing. As officials lined up to get ready to walk into the briefing room, Bryan spotted Birx and told her he got to go into the Oval. It was really exciting, he said. The president thinks this could be a treatment, meaning sunlight. Trump, Birx, and Bryan stepped into the briefing room, and Bryan presented his findings. Then Trump ruminated aloud about the presentation, as if he were conversing with Bryan, only live on television with millions of Americans watching. So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether its ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think you said that hasnt been checked, but youre going to test it, Trump said. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do, either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said youre going to test that, too. Sounds interesting, right? And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because, you see, it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so itd be interesting to check that. Birx, seated alongside the podium, looked uncomfortable and slightly distraught as Trump mused about injecting a household disinfectant such as bleach into the human body. She smirked at first and then stared down, trying to keep a straight face. She later told confidants she felt as if the earth had swallowed her up. This cannot be happening, she thought to herself. It was not in Birxs DNA to stand up and yell, This is not a treatment! Do not inject bleach! So Birx sat silently, declining to correct the president. She was, after all, an army doctora chain-of-command gal, as she liked to tell peopleand Trump was her commander in chief. After the news conference ended, Birx unloaded on Trumps aides. She was screaming, crazed about how Bryan was even allowed into the Oval in the first place. Who let [Bryan] see the president? she asked them. Who let him in there? Olivia Troye couldnt believe the president would suggest on national television during a pandemic that people inject themselves with bleach and it might make them immune from the virus. I remember walking away from that moment and thinking, Tonight there is going to be some family probably somewhere whos going to [inject bleach] because they believe everything he says, Troye later recalled. Some of his supporters are loyal, unwavering people. And God, I hope tonight there isnt a family out there somewhere who actually does this. Another member of the task force recalled thinking, I dont know what the fuck was going through his head. It was inconceivable that the president believes you can shoot yourself up with disinfectant. Was he tired? Was he misspeaking? Did he use the wrong word? He said he was being facetious. He told me privately, I was being facetious. I dont believe thats true. The bleach moment went viral and was held up across the media as an example of Trumps willingness to spread misinformation about the pandemic. The president had a communications crisis. For weeks now, Trumps daily news conference performances had been erratic, combative, grandiose, and, yes, saturated with falsehoods. His political advisers had come to believe that they were hurting him in the polls. Were in a global pandemic, Conway told Trump during this time. People are watching. Its become must-see TV. But not because youre sparring with the press. Its must-see TV because people want information. They have information underload when it comes to the pandemic. Conway warned Trump his daily performances could swing the election. We get you two hours a night and we get an hour a week of Joe Biden, she told the president. Thats good for Joe Biden. A coordinated procession of Trump allies visited with the president around this time to implore him to change his tune or risk losing reelection. Among them was Republican senator Lindsey Graham, arguably Trumps closest friend in the Congress, who himself was facing a tough reelection challenge in South Carolina. Mr. President, its not working, Graham told Trump, referring to the daily briefings. Youre getting too combative. Youre getting in pissing contests with thirty-five-year-old reporters. And thats not helping you. You were very reassuring at first and then you got to be in competitionWere doing better, Our numbers are better than Europe, Im doing a great job, versus, The country is suffering. Bleach day was the breaking point. Parscale called Kushner and said, Were going to lose in a landslide. Youve got Doctor Trump up there all day. Were still going down in the polls. Were losing and nothings changing. I know, Kushner replied. This is horrible. This turned out to be Trumps final time answering questions at a coronavirus news conference for a while. Starting April 24, when the U.S. death toll reached fifty thousand, Trump attended the news conference and made brief remarks. Our country is a great place and its going to be greater than ever before, the president said. Earlier in the day, he signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, which provided $320 billion for businesses harmed by the shutdowns to keep employees on payroll. These programs were created as part of the historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package Trump signed in late March. When it came time for reporters to ask questions, however, Trump turned the show over to Pence and Hahn. Finally, he had heeded his advisers advice to pare back his briefing room performances. As one of Trumps advisers later explained, Hes a poor communicator to the public. He makes it about him, and it cant be. All he had to do to win the election was if he walked up to a glass wall at a hospital and said, Im Americas president. The whole force of the United States government is behind you. Ill do everything I can do to save lives. A little teary-eyed, and hed win the election. But he said, No, no, this isnt true. Theres a miracle drug. Were all going to survive. Lets open the country. Even if thats right, this adviser continued, you dont fucking say that. Six Refusing to Mask Up B ill Barr is a political junkie. He studied campaigns and voters attitudes closely. As spring wore on, he came to believe that President Trump was squandering his hopes for reelection. It felt all too familiar. He had experienced this same premonition of an election slipping away when he had been attorney general in the final year of George H. W. Bushs presidency. Barr had no role in the coronavirus response, but he was fed up watching Trumps undisciplined press briefings and ad hominem attacks, and knew they were damaging his popularity among voters otherwise inclined to support him. Barr had come out of a comfortable and easy semiretirement to work for Trump, vowing to give him the solid advice he badly needed and to do his bit to keep the Republican Party in charge of the executive branch. Like many Trump appointees, Barr had taken a personal and professional beating for decisions he made in service to the president. Like a receiver, he didnt mind getting tackled after catching the ball for another first down. But Barr didnt appreciate having taken these hits only to watch Trump fritter away these advantages. As he confided privately to his advisers, Trump seemed programmed for overkill. Hes never had a good hand he didnt overplay, Barr told them. In April 2020, Barr decided to make the most of his standing as the rare Cabinet member to talk straight to the bossto tell Trump he was losing, which Lindsey Graham and a few other trusted allies also did that month. Barr scheduled a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, just the two of them alone. He wanted a truly private conversation. Barr opened the discussion with a plea for patience, hoping to short-circuit Trumps standard soliloquy at the start of every meeting. Mr. President, I have something very important I want to talk to you about, and Im hoping you actually listen to what I have to say, Barr said, according to the account he shared with confidants. Okay, Trump said, a bit taken aback. I feel you are going to lose the election, Barr said. I feel you are actually losing touch with your own base. Barr explained that in his travels around the country, he had talked to a lot of people in law enforcement and other solid Trump supporters who were uncomfortable with the presidents focus on skewering his perceived enemies rather than on clear, consistent plans to steer the country safely through the pandemic and shore up the economy. I have yet to meet anybody who supports you who hasnt said to me, We love the president, but would you please tell him to turn it back a bit? Barr said. Youre going to lose because theres going to be enough people who otherwise would vote for you who are just tired of the acrimony, the pettiness, the punching down and picking a fight at every moment, and the apparent chaos, and theyre just going to say, Were tired of this shit. Barr warned Trump that he risked turning off some of his 2016 backersenough to lose the election, especially with Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee. Youre trying to jack up your base, but you can jack up your base without pissing off this important segment, Barr said. Barr explained that Trump had won the 2016 election narrowly, in large part because he had been scared straight one month before the election by the release of the shocking Access Hollywood recording in which he bragged that his celebrity status gave him the power to sexually assault women. Republican officials, including then party chairman Reince Priebus, predicted he would lose badly, and Trump became convinced to stick to a disciplined script crafted by Kellyanne Conway and strategist Steve Bannon, among others. The only reason you won last time, Mr. President, is because of the grab them by the pussy comment, Barr said, according to the account he shared with others. It actually scared you enough to listen to Kellyanne. And for the last several weeks you behaved yourself and you won by a hair. This time its different. You cannot wait until the end. Barr saw two reasons that the 2020 campaign was different, but he told Trump only one of them. Its different because then people were willing to give you a chance, Barr said. They sort of wanted a change. You were an outsider who would be an agent of change. Now most people know who you are and youre going to have to start much earlier to smooth over some of the rough edges. Barr left unsaid the second reason. In 2016, Trump had been a neophyte and knew enough to listen to seasoned advisers like Conway. But now, Trump insisted he was the true political geniusafter all, he had defied so many of the pros by winningand in his hubris, he was disinclined to follow peoples advice. Barr told Trump that he was motivated to talk to him that day because hed been spurred by an old memory of a similar heart-to-heart. He recounted how in 1992, Barr and Jack Kemp, then the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, went in to see Bush in the Oval. Our message to the president was, Youre going to lose this election, and unfortunately we turned out to be right, Barr told Trump. We were right because we felt that he was falling prey to and was not addressing the image of him as someone who was out of touch with what was happening in the country, and that there was a lot that he could do to address that. I feel a sense of d?j? vu, which is, I think youre going to lose this election, Barr continued. I think that if you wanted to you could walk into a second term, COVID and all. You could go down in history as an amazing president and its yours for the taking. But its about you, and youre turning off enough people to lose this election. Trump was oddly silent, not interrupting or trying to regain the floor as he usually did. The president had listened without emoting for a long time. He didnt ask any questions. He didnt push back. Now, as Barrs spiel came to an end, Trump nodded, and said he appreciated the advice. Barr left hopeful that the president had really taken his message to heart, but he couldnt be sure. O n the morning of April 25, Alex Azar got a call from two aides reaching out to him together with bad news. CNN is about to report that youre being fired, one of them said. Azars job had seemingly been on life support all year, yet a news report that his dismissal was imminent was next level. He called Mark Meadows. Thats not even being discussed, Meadows told Azar. Azar needed to clear his head, so he took a five-mile walk around his neighborhood and nearby trails. Shortly after the CNN story was published, Azars phone rang. It was Jared Kushner, who had broken Sabbath on this Saturday to make the call. Alex, this story is just false, Kushner said. Completely false. But this crap with Grogan and Seema. We gotta get this straight. Kushner was suggesting the CNN story might be the handiwork of Joe Grogan and Seema Verma, two of Azars fiercest critics in the administration, though he could not prove that either were sources for the report. As disappointed as he was with Azars dysfunctional early response to the pandemic, Kushner believed the secretary had begun turning things around. Operations had improved by ramping up the supply of ventilators and masks, and Kushner believed firing Azar would only add unnecessary drama. He suggested Azar join him the next day at the home of Adam Boehler to talk about mobilizing HHS in the right direction. Boehler was Kushners former Harvard roommate who had gone on to work in private equity investing in health-care technology and services and became part of the so-called Slim Suit Crowd. Kushner had earlier arranged for FEMA to take charge of key aspects of the virus response, but he had since become frustrated by the bureaucracy therenot to mention unflattering leaks to the media about Kushners work at FEMAand decided HHS would make a better command center. The morning of April 26 brought a downpour of rain in Washington. The Sunday talk shows were still abuzz with the news that Azar would be fired. Azar got a call from Meadows before 10:00. Alex, the stories are false, the White House chief of staff assured him. There cannot be sources who are familiar with discussions that havent occurred. This is all coming from one source, and that will be dealt with. Meadows didnt say who he meant, but Azar assumed he was referring to Grogan. That afternoon, Azar met Kushner at Boehlers mansion off Foxhall Road. In a sweet hostess gesture, Boehlers wife used her new air fryer to make Azar, who had celiac disease, a plate of air-fried vegetable crisps. They sketched out plans for how to score some wins for Team Trump by stockpiling protective equipment and helping speed up vaccines. That afternoon, after Azar got home, Trump called him. The president was mild mannered, something Azar had not experienced in many weeks. Listen, Im not getting rid of you, Trump said. Why would I get rid of you with six months to go? Even if you were mediocre I wouldnt do that. And youre great, so why would I do that? Azar thanked him for the reassurance. Whos generating all these stories? Trump asked. Wheres all this shit coming from? Azar had one word: Grogan! So what should we do? Trump asked. You have to get rid of him, Azar said. He is a cancer on your presidency. Grogan was a cancer, to be sure, but far more on Azars future in the administration than on Trumps presidency. Regardless, Grogan already had decided to leave the administration at the end of May. He had promised his wife he would not stay in the government a day longer than Memorial Day, as they were eager for him to make more money in the private sector and have more time to spend at home. Azar told the president what Michael Caputo had encouraged him to keep in mind: attacks on Azar were equivalent to attacks on Trump. These leaks hurt you, not me, Azar said. I have not leaked in my life to hurt you. I will defend myself. But I have never leaked to hurt you. We are a team and we are in this together. Together, we have to win in six months. Yeah, youre right, Trump said. We are together. You need me to look good for you to look good. Then the president gave the instructions that would end their months of friction. Im going to post a tweet disputing this story, Trump said. You tweet this is fake news and I want you to put out a whole list of all the great things we did together on COVID. Azar agreed. Trump went first at 5:53 p.m.: Reports that H.H.S. Secretary @AlexAzar is going to be fired by me are Fake News. The Lamestream Media knows this, but they are desperate to create the perception of chaos and havoc in the minds of the public. They never even called to ask. Alex is doing an excellent job! About twenty minutes later, Azar tweeted: Reports of President Trump looking to replace me are NFakeNews. The media continues to smear @POTUS and his Administrations fight against NCOVID19 and grossly overlook the historic whole-of-government response that weve been delivering under the Presidents leadership. While the NFakeNews media and their leaker allies collude to destroy this President, his Administration is following his leadership 24/7 to protect Americans and end a global health crisis. Several agency chiefs who reported to Azar, including Robert Redfield, Stephen Hahn, and Verma, watched this unfolding Twitter volley with confusion and, frankly, disappointment. They had been hearing for weeks from colleagues in the White House that Azar would soon be canned, and they were rooting for it privately. They considered him the worst boss. Azar and his senior aides seemed entirely focused on him claiming credit for successes and pinning blame on agency chiefs below him whenever something went south. They considered Azar untrustworthy and completely overwhelmed by the pandemic. Vice President Pence recognized these problems, too, but held his tongue and did not intervene. He had recommended Trump hire Azar as health secretary. Both men knew each other from when Pence was governor and Azar was CEO of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly. Therefore, Azars downfall would have reflected poorly on Pences judgment. What Azar didnt know was just how close he had come to losing his job. Trump had not been honest with him when he said he thought he was doing great. The president repeatedly had planted the idea of firing the health secretary, including directly with some of Azars subordinates. And he went to great lengths to undermine Azar publicly. Trump tightly choreographed the daily coronavirus press briefings in March and April. Sometimes he would make sure all the other administration officials had messages to deliver but left nothing for Azar to say. He also instructed aides to have Azar stand at the edge of the platform, putting him out of camera view. Well aware of Azars rivalry with Verma, Trump sometimes told her, Seema, we want you right over my shoulder, as if he were trying to antagonize Azar or to make him paranoid. Yet in a sign of just how much the president encouraged a Fight Club mentality in his administration, Trump separately told Azar to try to tolerate Verma and that he would get rid of her after he won the election. After saving Azars job, Trump brought up the topic in a call with Verma. Well, Alex is really close to the edge, Trump told Verma. I saved him. People think he needs to go. The president acknowledged Azars troubles in the job and told Verma that he decided to keep him for a simple political reason: Its not a good idea to change the secretary before the election, he said. But as a senior task-force member later explained, keeping Azar may have been a political mistake, as that left nobody to shoulder the blame for the failed coronavirus response. Had they taken Azar out, they couldve said it was all his fault, this official said. The fall guy became the president and everybody else in the White House. A fter the CDC issued guidance on April 13 urging people to wear masks when in public settings where social distancing is difficult, a deep divide emerged at the White House. Redfield and his fellow public health leaders wanted administration officials, who often stood close together at news conferences, to lead by example. Redfield knew masks were a critical defense against the virus, and that Americans would take cues from leaders in Washington. He wanted administration officials to present a united facetheir noses and mouths covered by blue-and-white medical masks. Redfields mantra was Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Everyone wear a mask. Trump, however, would not wear one, and that meant people who wanted to stay in the presidents good graces resisted wearing masks as well, including members of the Secret Service. Task-force members learned from a top Secret Service official that some agents and officers felt masks did not look manly. As the president had put it to reporters on April 3, Somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queensI dont know, somehow I dont see it for myself. I just, I just dont. In the intervening weeks, Redfield took it as a personal mission to convince the president and vice president to wear masks. Redfield prodded them gently at every opportunityespecially Pence, whom he considered a softer target. Its so important for you to set the example, Redfield told Pence after a task-force meeting. Pence said he was confident he didnt have the virushe was being tested regularlyso a mask seemed redundant. The truth was he wanted to follow Trumps lead. On April 28, the White House resistance to masking came to a head when Pence flew to Rochester, Minnesota, to tour the Mayo Clinic. He visited with patients and staff and toured facilities at the renowned medical center that were supporting COVID-19 research, but did not wear a mask, a violation of the Mayo Clinics policy. Video of Pences maskless interactions, including greeting a patient in bed, went viral. Here was the chair of the coronavirus task force flouting a hospitals policy, not to mention the CDCs recommendations. Everyone else in the video clips wore masks. Pence at first defended his decision not to wear a mask, saying he was tested for the virus regularly. Since I dont have the coronavirus, I thought itd be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health-care personnel, and look them in the eye and say, Thank you, Pence said. Two days later second lady Karen Pence would claim on Fox News that her husband hadnt known about the mask requirement until after the clinic visit. But that wasnt the full truth. Pences staff did know the policy. The Mayo Clinic tweeted on its official social media account, Mayo Clinic had informed @VP of the masking policy prior to his arrival today. The tweet was soon deleted, after Marc Short yelled at clinic officials for attempting to embarrass the vice president and for drawing media attention away from the convalescent plasma research Pence had flown to Rochester to promote. There was yet more evidence of the Pence teams prior knowledge of the masking policy. Before the trip, Pences office shared guidance with reporters traveling with the vice president about the clinics mask mandate and explicitly instructed journalists to wear masks on the trip. Two days after the Mayo visit, Redfield got a happy surprise. Pence finally wore a face mask. In a rare public about-face for the Trump administration, the vice president on April 30 visited a General Motors plant in Indiana that had been converted into a ventilator factoryand was photographed wearing a mask as he toured the facility. He would almost always wear it in close public spaces from then on. Still, the mask story would continue to dog Pence until May 3, when he acknowledged his lapse in judgment at the Mayo Clinic. I didnt think it was necessary, but I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic, he said at a Fox News town hall event. Meanwhile, Redfields efforts to convince Trump to wear a mask in public were less successful. He leaned on Dr. Sean Conley, the presidents physician in the White House Medical Unit, for help. Sean, you gotta get the president to wear a mask, Redfield told him one day around this time. You gotta get him to wear it for his own protection. Another time, Redfield pressed again, worried about several instances of people in and around the White House testing positive. Sean, you gotta get the president to understand he needs to do this, Redfield told Conley. You gotta tell him. Youre his doctor. You gotta tell him. Conley insisted he was trying and he would keep at it. But he turned the dilemma back on Redfield: Didnt he have patients who didnt take his advice? O n May 1, a new White House press secretaryTrumps fourth in three yearsstepped to the lectern in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room: Kayleigh McEnany. It had been 417 days since a White House press secretary had held a briefing and much had changed. For starters, the number of journalists allowed to attend had shrunk considerably in observance of social distancing rules. McEnanys predecessor, Stephanie Grisham, never deigned to hold a briefing in her eight months in the job, making her the first White House press secretary in history to abdicate that important responsibility. McEnany, thirty-two, was a Harvard Law graduate and had earned Trumps approval in her fiery cable television appearances. Recruited by Meadows and Kushner, she was attractive, petite, and blondjust the kind of spokeswoman they knew the casting-director president would want as his on-camera defender in the run-up to the election. In her first briefing, McEnany revealed a special talent for bending the facts to Trumps benefit. Reporters were scarred by three straight years of lies and caustic attacksfrom the president, his succession of spokespeople, and countless other administration officialsand wondered whether McEnany would be just the latest in Trumps rotating cast of fabulists and tricksters. Will you pledge never to lie to us from that podium? Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin asked. I will never lie to you. You have my word on that, McEnany said, not a frown to be seen. It was a striking claim, not only because she worked for Trump, but also because truth had not been a priority for her in the recent past. As a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, McEnany had insisted in late February 2020 that the coronavirus simply wouldnt reach the United States because Trump would keep it at bay. He will always protect American citizens, McEnany had told Fox Business Channel host Trish Regan. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here. And isnt it refreshing, when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama? McEnany made this ridiculous comment even though the White House already had confirmed dozens of U.S. cases. In the May 1 briefing, despite promising never to lie to reporters, McEnany proceeded to repeatedly stretch the truth. She misrepresented what FBI records showed about agents strategy before their famous interview with then national security adviser Michael Flynn. She claimed Robert Muellers Russia investigation cost taxpayers $40 million; it had cost $32 million. She claimed the Mueller probe resulted in the complete and total exoneration of President Trump; in fact, the Mueller team concluded there was substantial evidence that the president obstructed a criminal probe and that they could not exonerate him. The actual words of the reports conclusion said: while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. McEnany ended the briefing by reminding everyone watching of Trumps top priority: high ratings. Everyone should watch the Fox News town hall with the president from seven to nine p.m., she said. Itll be cant-miss television, much like the highly rated President Trump coronavirus task-force briefings have been. McEnanys arrival, along with the hiring of Alyssa Farah as communications director, cemented Meadowss control over the administrations coronavirus messaging, which had been the domain of Pences office. Farah had a long-standing relationship with Meadows from the five years she spent on Capitol Hill, first as Meadowss communications director and later as the spokeswoman for the conservative House Freedom Caucus. She then joined the Trump administration, first as Pences press secretary and then as Defense Secretary Mark Espers press secretary. Meadows tried to exert complete control over all virus communications, including dramatically scaling back the media appearances by Fauci and other health officials, who too often corrected Trumps misinformation about the virus. Meadows directed Farah to block television appearances and other media interview requests for the doctors. Francis Collins, Faucis boss, repeatedly had to intervene personally with Meadows to get approval for bookings. The doctors were trying to communicate the best health guidance to the public during a pandemic and needed to do as much media as possible. Meadows sometimes agreed, but only reluctantly, and with conditions. Youve got to tell Tony to talk about why this is actually going better now, Meadows told Collins on one such occasion. Youve got to talk to Tony: Dont be such a fearmonger. In other words, Fauci could go on TV, but only if he did happy talk. Collins replied, I dont think thats what Tonys going to do. I will pass on your message. Collins and Fauci spoke every evening to compare notes from the day not only about scientific advances, but political struggles, too. With tensions so fraught on the task force, the two longtime colleagues felt it was essential there never be daylight between them. When Collins shared Meadowss request that Fauci put a more positive spin on the trend lines, they both laughed about it. In the interview, Fauci told the truth. Michael Caputo also tried to intervene to get the White House to approve bookings for Fauci, Redfield, Jerome Adams, and other health officials. He suggested they appear on shows that Farah and her White House colleagues considered too liberal, such as The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, or on random podcasts that they thought would be a waste of time. Farah preferred the doctors appear on more apolitical shows with high ratings, such as ABCs Good Morning America, where they might be less likely to be asked questions that made the president look bad. Caputos emails and calls to Farah often got no replies. At one point in the spring, he ran out of patience. He decided to book the doctors on several television shows, with or without Farahs approval. Caputo wrote an email to Meadows, Farah, and McEnany that said something along the lines of, Look, I cant get you on the phone. I cant get you to reply. Id love to have you involved, but if you cant, thats fine. Im not booking Sunday shows. Ill leave that to you. But Im booking these six doctors on as many shows as will take them. As long as the interviews dont interfere with their work at the agencies, thats what theyre doing. We need more public health information, not less. These are all smart people and theyll make the president look good. Caputo presented himself in the email as the doctors champion and an advocate for sharing accurate health information with the public. But subsequent reporting by Dan Diamond, then of Politico, would reveal that Caputo had played a key role behind the scenes in trying to manipulate federal data, reports, and guidelines to align with Trumps claims that fears about the virus were overstated. Caputo and other Trump appointees, including Paul Alexander, a health adviser who worked closely with Caputo, demanded to review and seek changes to the CDCs Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a weekly digest authored by career scientists that analyzed for medical professionals and the public how COVID-19 was spreading and which kinds of people were at risk, according to the Politico report. Farah already had doubts about Caputos competence and suspicions about his intentions, and sometimes had booked Fauci and other doctors without looping him in. She was furious about the email, which she thought Caputo intentionally sent knowing it would become part of the public record and might burnish his image in history books. Meadows called Caputo. Come to the office immediately, the chief of staff said. Im of the mind to fire you right now. Have you passed that by the president? Caputo asked. I can fire anybody I want, Meadows said. I believe you can, sir, but I think this is something we should talk to the president about, replied Caputo, who was banking on Trump having his back, considering their long history together. Before Caputo showed up, Farah had acknowledged to Meadows, I could be nicer to him. I shouldnt be as harsh. But Im warning you guys, this guy is a liability. When Caputo arrived in the chief of staffs office, he assumed he was walking into his execution. Meadows, Farah, and McEnany were there. At one point, Azar joined them. Meadows dressed Caputo down about how all media appearances had to be approved by the White House communications office, which Farah ran. He said the doctors were not the right messengers on television and argued that Azar would be a better political spokesperson for the administrations virus response. Then Meadows turned genteel. Lets hit restart on this relationship, he said. Kayleigh, can we do that? I think we can, McEnany said. Alyssa, can we do that? Meadows asked. Sure, Farah responded. Michael, can we do that? Meadows asked. Hope dies last, Caputo replied. Meadows, puzzled, asked, Michael, what do you mean? I hope so, Caputo said. Palms up. On their way out of the meeting, Farah addressed Caputo: I want to say one thing to you: You wrote that email to leak. I dont leak against the president of the United States, Caputo said. Yes you did, Farah shot back. Alyssa, he said, Im not you. A s task-force doctors used whatever means they could to preach to the public to wear masks and avoid large gatherings, their place of work suddenly turned into a coronavirus petri dish. On May 6, a military service member who served as one of Trumps personal White House valets started having symptoms of COVID-19, and the next day tested positive. For the germaphobe president, who once had infamously admonished Mick Mulvaney for coughing in his presence, the viruss breach not only of the heavily fortified White House complex, but also of Trumps personal bubble, was alarming. It should not have been surprising, however. Other than requiring regular testing of senior aides and others who came into proximity with Trump, the White House staff eschewed its own health recommendations. In fact, Trump continued to meet in person with groups of strangers, including a May 8 gathering of World War II veterans. Some of Trumps advisers were afraid of catching the coronavirus at work. Deborah Birx was militant about wearing a mask in the White House. She remembered how masks had protected her from any number of diseases when she traveled the worlds hot zones researching respiratory illnesses. She knew many of the young people on Trumps staff believed they were invincible and gathered socially after hours. She also knew Secret Service agents used small communal break rooms on the complex, where the risk of exposure was high. She was fearful of bringing the virus home. Similarly militant about masking was Matt Pottinger, whom other West Wing aides teased for covering up part of his face. The deputy national security adviser was so concerned about the likelihood of the maskless White House becoming an incubator of infectionand of staff dropping like fliesthat in mid-March he made an urgent outreach to the Taiwan government. He procured hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese masks, primarily for U.S. health-care workers, and thirty-six hundred masks for the use of White House personnel. Most others had a carefree attitude about masks, however, including Katie Miller, who in her role running Pences communications was a fixture at task-force meetings and worked closely with its members. Though she had an office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Miller often worked out of Shorts cramped cubby-sized office in the West Wing, sitting sometimes on the floor, as did other vice-presidential aides. The two were overheard gossiping about and making fun of task-force doctors. On May 7, Pence delivered boxes of personal protective equipment from FEMA to a nursing home in Alexandria, Virginia. Miller staffed him for the photo op. As she talked near a gaggle of reporters without wearing a mask, Miller coughed. She had tested negative earlier that day, but when she got tested again on May 8, her results came back positive. She had COVID. The news of Millers positive test delayed Pences departure that morning for Iowa. Air Force Two sat on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews for nearly an hour as staffers who had been exposed to Miller disembarked. Pence and Short stayed on, despite having been in close proximity to Miller, and they continued on to Des Moines. Back at the White House, Olivia Troye was distraught. She had been working closely with Short, Miller, and others on the staff. In the privacy of her office, Troye broke down in tears. She was afraid she had COVID and would get her immunocompromised husband sick. She took vitamin C and washed her hands obsessively that day, so much so that they felt raw by the time she got home. Troye wasnt alone in her fears. Other vice-presidential staffers came into her office, closed the door behind them, and privately asked for advice. They were scared about traveling with Pence in the future. When youre in these mass gatherings, never take off your mask, Troye told them. Dont listen to Marc. Wash your hands all the time. Dont shake any hands. Carry sanitizer with you. When youre at rallies, stay behind the stage and in your own pod, where you know the people youre traveling with have been tested. Dont go to the front and take photos or interact with strangers. Protect yourself. Fear of the virus outbreak permeated the White House staff that weekend. Kevin Hassett gave voice to the concerns on May 10, when he said on CBSs Face the Nation, It is scary to go to work. He added, I think Id be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing.

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