Former U.S. president Donald Trump had a “parallel” source of COVID-19 information outside of his top task-force doctors, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, who was on the White House’s coronavirus team.
“I saw the president presenting graphs that I never made,” Birx told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “I know that someone — someone out there or someone inside — was creating a parallel set of graphics that were shown to the president,” she said.
Birx, who is retiring after spending the last year on Trump’s virus task force, said someone was cherry-picking coronavirus data for the president during the crisis.
“You can’t do that,” she said. “You have to use the entire database.”
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Birx suggested that Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and Trump’s former adviser on the task force, was likely feeding him the “parallel data,” though she didn’t know who else might have been involved.
Atlas frequently advocated against lockdowns — which Trump also opposed — through the summer and fall before resigning on Nov. 30 amid fierce criticism.
Birx also said she thought about quitting the task force on several occasions, and was disappointed when the president did not follow her lockdown recommendations. Instead, Trump deliberately downplayed the threat, frequently promised the virus would “disappear” and tried to offload responsibility onto state governors.
“The worst possible time you can have a pandemic is in a presidential election year,” Birx said, adding that there was no “full-time team” working on the virus during Trump’s tenure.
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Trump has a long history of indulging “alternative” facts, pushing falsehoods and occasionally changing infographics to suit his version of reality.
He infamously presented a map that had been altered to put Alabama in the path of hurricane Dorian in 2019, after he incorrectly suggested the state was in the danger zone a few days prior. Trump refused to admit he had made a mistake, and instead pressured the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to say his error was correct.
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The hurricane never hit Alabama.
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Trump was also mocked last year after bringing a printed stack of his own flattering data charts to an Axios interview, during which he claimed the pandemic was “under control.”
Birx was part of Trump’s virus task force through much of last year, and seemed to hold his ear longer than Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was more willing to contradict the president in public. She told CBS that she felt censored from talking about the science, and accused the Trump administration of blocking her from making media appearances.
Birx was on hand for the April press conference in which Trump suggested drinking bleach might cure COVID-19. Birx appeared to humour the president without forcefully condemning his dangerous suggestion at the time.
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Birx is the latest doctor to carefully distance herself from Trump and his anti-science approach to the pandemic, which has now killed more than 419,000 Americans.
Fauci also expressed relief about Trump’s departure last week when he held his first virus briefing of the Biden administration.
Fauci said it was “liberating” to work for an administration that respects science after nearly a year of catering to Trump’s personal and political sensitivities.
“One of the new things in this administration is, if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess,” Fauci said at one point, in an apparent nod to Trump’s attempts to guess a cure. “Just say you don’t know the answer.”
Fauci chose his words carefully while acknowledging the difficulties of working with Trump.
“It was very clear that there were things that were said, be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things, that really was uncomfortable because they were not based in scientific fact,” Fauci said.
Fauci, 80, will remain on the job under Joe Biden’s administration, while Birx, 64, is expected to retire in the coming weeks.
—With files from The Associated Press
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