(CNN)President Donald Trump claimed Sunday that the US intelligence community “did NOT bring up the CoronaVirus subject matter until late into January” and that “they only spoke of the Virus in a very non-threatening, or matter of fact, manner.”
CNN and other news outlets have reported that the President’s daily intelligence briefing included information about the coronavirus outbreak in China and its potential to spread to the United States as early as January 3. It is not clear whether Trump — who infrequently reads the President’s Daily Brief compiled by intelligence officials — read the information at the time or whether officials briefing the President in person raised the issue.
The Washington Post also reported last week that US intelligence agencies included warnings about the coronavirus in more than a dozen classified briefings prepared for the President in January and February.
Trump said Sunday night that he was first briefed about coronavirus on January 23 and indicated the US intelligence agencies would be issuing a statement in the coming days.
“On January 23, I was told that there could be a virus coming in but it was of no real import. In other words it wasn’t, ‘Oh we gotta do something, we gotta do something.’ It was a brief conversation and it was only on January 23,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall.
While Trump claims he was told that “there could be a virus coming in,” that January 23 briefing came three days after the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the United States.
The President was also briefed by Health and Human Services Secretary Secretary Alex Azar about the threat of the coronavirus during a January 18 phone call, according to multiple reports.
Trump also said that at the time, the US intelligence community was not “competently run.”
“And the intelligence agencies, which have now — now, now — because before they weren’t, which are now very competently run with some great people….the intelligence agencies will tell you that tomorrow,” Trump said Sunday.
While claiming that he was only briefed about the coronavirus in late January, Trump did not address why he continued to downplay the threat of the virus in January, February and March.
As late as March 9, Trump continued to downplay the threat of coronavirus, comparing it to the flu despite public health experts’ warnings against such a comparison.
Trump also falsely claimed in his tweet that those allowed into the US from China “were heavily scrutinized and tested U.S. citizens.” Passengers returning to the United States from China were not tested at airports, though there had been some basic screening and a request that those passengers self-quarantine for 14 days.
Trump’s claims join a list of deflections throughout the pandemic as the President has sought to combat negative perceptions about the US response. By Sunday, more than 1.1 million people in the US were infected with the virus, and more than 67,000 had died, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.