As COVID-19 came to America, Donald Trump and Jared Kushner saw dollars not deaths.
For three critical weeks beginning in February, the White House could have stopped the spread of the coronavirus.
My investigation reveals Intelligence and National Security Council officials briefed Donald Trump about the scale and severity of the looming outbreak in January. Yet he officially failed to react and publicly denied the threat.
By February 24, as the stock market tumbled on the news the coronavirus had spread outside of China’s borders, to South Korea, Iran, and the U.S., Trump remained inexplicably in denial.
It took Trump until March 13 for Trump to declare the pandemic a national emergency, 19 days after the financial markets began their retreat.
Instead of putting America on a war footing, Trump kept talking down the severity of the coronavirus, calling it a hoax and downplaying the actual numbers and projections his advisers were giving him.
Those 19 days when Trump fiddled, could have saved America from this crisis.
TRUMP IN DENIAL AS COVID-19 SPREAD
On February 24, there were 15 confirmed cases of Americans with COVID-19. By March 13, the figure was 2163. There is no doubt that a more prompt and deliberate response to contain the virus would have suppressed its growth trajectory significantly.
South Korean officials acted decisively after their first COVID-19 case on January 20, diagnosed on the same day the U.S. had its first confirmed case.
The South Koreans began testing symptomatic cases, contact tracing anyone who was potentially infected and isolating suspected cases. As a result, the spread of the virus in South Korea was dramatically slowed.
The opposite was playing out in the United States. Trump declared the coronavirus “very much under control in the U.S.A.” when in reality it was spreading without any attempts to contain it on the ground. A ban on travel from China was instituted.
Yet even as he was downplaying the virus publicly, Trump was engaged behind the scenes as American pharmaceutical companies were bidding to acquire test manufacturers and vaccine makers. One of those companies doing the buying was Thermo Fisher Scientific.
On March 3, Thermo Fisher Scientific completed a $10 Bn acquisition of Qiagen, A Dutch company that developed a COVID-19 test.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Ten days later, On March 13, Trump’s opinion of the looming crisis suddenly shifted, and he declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency.
The declaration allows the FDA and other government agencies to circumvent usual regulations for drug and test approvals.
Trump mentioned Thermo Fisher by name when he announced the national emergency, adding that FDA approval would not be far behind. It wan’t. Thermo Fisher’s test kits were approved by the FDA within 24 hours.
There are troubling murmurs of a conflict of interest but nothing iron-clad.
Trump owned shares in Thermo Fisher before becoming president. He says he divested them in 2017, but Trump may still hold them via a trust.
The CEO of Thermo Fisher’s China division, Gianluca Pettiti, was also one of 20 U.S. business leaders who attended a banquet for Trump and Melania during their 2017 state visit. In a social media post, President Xi is visible just feet away from Pettiti and Trump.
It’s hard to account for Trump’s coronavirus about-face: from hoax to national emergency within days. Some argue Trump was just being overly reassuring to Americans in the early stages, but how does that account for his lack of attention to disaster prevention?
The coronavirus and other bio-agents represent a brand new multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical sector. Thermo Fisher for example, intends to make 5 million COVID-19 tests a month. They will charge medicare $51 for each test (up from the CDC’s $31). That’s $3 Billion per year based on the Medicare price alone, which is vastly lower than other providers. And the taxpayers will shoulder the difference in cost.
Interestingly, Thermo Fisher also has ties to the Koch Brothers. Tyler Jacks headed the late David Koch’s cancer foundation at MIT. Jacks sits on the board of directors and the advisory board of Thermo Fisher.
Beyond testing, vaccines, masks, protective equipment, and surveillance tech represent other potential growth markets in this new sector. It’s not hard to see how the war against viruses will become the new war against terror.
While Trump managed Thermo Fisher’s FDA approval, he was also actively pursuing potential suitors of vaccine makers from around the world.
The CEO of Germany’s CureVac visited the White House on March 2. A visit arranged with just 24 hours notice. He was publicly fired a week later amid allegations Trump tried to buy the company’s vaccine production for the exclusive use of Americans, a claim which has been widely disputed.
It’s unlikely that CureVac will sell its entire vaccine supply to any country, let alone America. Still, there are 51 other vaccine studies around the world, and the first to market stands to make its owners a fortune. This is the race to watch as the sector heats up.
We also found out this week, Jared Kushner’s much-vaunted Google website initiative was neither successful nor Google’s. Jared’s brother’s health care company, Oscar, developed the site. Jared was a shareholder in the company until he allegedly disinvested from it.
While Donald Trump’s response to COVID-19 has been an unmitigated disaster, an unmistakable pattern of Trump’s hyper-focus on dealmaking rather than disaster response has emerged.
Trump is so fixated on being America’s CEO; he’s failed at the most crucial role of being its president: saving American lives.