Trump's claims about COVID-19 catching him off guard get busted by former Obama and Bush officials
US President Donald Trump holds a press conference on COVID-19 in the Rose Garden of the White House on March 13, 2020. AFP / SAUL LOEB

President Donald Trump failed to follow the detailed instructions left by previous administrations for handling a deadly pandemic -- and now more than 150,000 people are dead.

Public officials who served in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations strongly dispute Trump's claims that "nobody knew there'd be a pandemic," because they put together "playbooks" and took part in "table-top exercises" to prepare for that likelihood, reported ABC News.

“This current pandemic has really played out in many ways similar to exercises and table-top simulations that we had done many years ago,” said Dr. James Lawler, a former White House National Security Council in both of those previous administrations. “I think, unfortunately, things have played out somewhat predictably."

Tom Bossert, who served as a homeland security adviser under Bush and then Trump, said the plans he helped craft in the mid-2000s could have helped during the coronavirus pandemic if they had been followed.

“Those strategies and those plans were comprehensive,” said Bossert, who left the Trump administration in April 2018, "and they addressed a number of issues that we've now seen unfortunately coming to light.”

Bush became focused on pandemics in 2005, when he was fascinated by a book about the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic, and he asked his team to come up with plans for handling a new public health threat -- which came in 2009, when the Obama administration was faced with the swine flu pandemic.

“Everyone thanked me for really insisting that we pursue this level of preparedness,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, who led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2002 to 2009, but left just before that pandemic. “But the team, in my opinion, in 2009, really demonstrated that the planning was worth it. Nothing is ever perfect. But I felt just so impressed and so proud of the job CDC did in 2009.”

A senior Trump administration official insisted the White House consulted those playbooks, although that official did not offer any specific examples when asked, but Obama's Ebola response coordinator Ron Klain is certain the current administration did not.

“They didn't run the plays,” Klain said, "and it would have made a big difference if they had.”

The CDC later credited the Obama administration's testing and contact tracing system for saving untold thousands of American lives, and Klain said they left behind a step-by-step process for repeating that successful effort with a virus exactly like the one Trump faced.

"On Page Nine of the pandemic playbook,” Klain said, “it said, ‘Hey, here's something to worry about: a coronavirus.’”

“It said on the front, ‘Pandemic Playbook,’” he added. “I don't know if the Trump administration didn't pay attention to the playbook, I don't know if they didn't read it, I don't know if they read it and ignored it.”