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Analysis: Of course Donald Trump’s team didn’t tell the truth about his Covid-19 illness

Throughout Trump’s campaign for president and the four years in the White House, he and those closest to him repeatedly sought to obfuscate about his overall health — setting new lows in the standards of transparency for our chief executive in the process.

Remember that the extent of Trump’s medical history that we were privy to during the 2016 campaign was a single handwritten note by his longtime doctor, Harold Bornstein, that included this now-infamous line: “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” (We found out three years later that, according to Bornstein, Trump dictated that letter to him and then pressured him to sign it.)
During his time in the White House, Trump never fully explained his surprise visit to Walter Reed hospital in the fall of 2019. While aides at the time said it was merely to get a jump on his annual physical, we later learned that Vice President Mike Pence was put on alert that he might need to assume the duties of president if Trump had to be anesthetized. Which is, uh, not what happens in a normal physical.

When Trump tested positive for Covid-19 in October 2020, it was virtually impossible to get a straight answer about his condition out of anyone in the White House — including White House physician Sean Conley.

Conley repeatedly gave rosy assessments of Trump’s health while battling the disease, conveniently parsing words to avoid acknowledging what we now know (and long suspected): This was a very serious health crisis for Trump.

When Conley was criticized for his nothing-to-see-here-folks! approach to the President’s health, he responded this way:

“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the President in his course of illness has had. I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction, and in doing so it came off that we’re trying to hide something.”

Which tells you everything you need to know about Conley — and the approach to Trump’s health he and the White House team took. What difference does the desire to “reflect the upbeat attitude of the team [and] the president,” have on Trump’s condition? And why would Conley providing accurate information about Trump’s condition “steer the course of illness in another direction”? Short answer: It wouldn’t.

That Trump’s condition was even more dire than we knew, then, isn’t surprising. A lack of transparency — and Trump’s desire to always be perceived as strong and, uh, manly — was a feature, not a glitch, of the Trump White House.

But we should all be appalled that we were given so much misleading information about the condition of the President of the United States as he battled a virus that not only had he downplayed at every turn but that has also now killed more than 475,000 Americans.

Knowing the full picture of a President’s health — whether that President is Trump or Joe Biden or whoever comes after Biden — is a public right. Being purposely misinformed or given very limited information for public relations reasons should not be excused. Or repeated.

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