As the Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. surpasses 218,000, the New York Times revealed this week that while President Donald Trump in February lied to Americans about the coronavirus outbreak being "very much under control," his economic advisers at the same time warned wealthy Republican donors and members of a right-wing think tank behind closed doors that a public health crisis of the magnitude expected would severely affect the U.S. and world economy.
"Apparently, if Americans want to hear the full truth from the Trump administration about the severity of Covid-19, they need to be wealthy and well-connected donors," said Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog group Accountable.US, in a statement Friday.
The Times' investigation focused on the discrepancy between Trump's cheerful public messaging to Americans in February and the less optimistic information that White House officials shared simultaneously and secretly with the conservative Hoover Institution's board members, many of whom are GOP donors.
For instance, hours after Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, asserted on February 25 on CNBC that the coronavirus had been contained in the U.S.—"it's pretty close to airtight"—he said privately that "we just don't know."
William Callanan, a hedge fund consultant who attended the Hoover board meetings, wrote a document describing what he heard. The memo, obtained by the Times, demonstrated that "a devastating virus outbreak in the U.S. was increasingly likely to occur, and that government officials were more aware of the threat than they were letting on publicly."
According to the Times:
The consultant's assessment quickly spread through parts of the investment world. U.S. stocks were already spiraling because of a warning from a federal public health official that the virus was likely to spread, but traders spotted the immediate significance: The president's aides appeared to be giving wealthy party donors an early warning of a potentially impactful contagion at a time when Mr. Trump was publicly insisting that the threat was nonexistent.
"To many of the investors who received or heard about the memo, it was the first significant sign of skepticism among Trump administration officials about their ability to contain the virus," the Times reported. "It also provided a hint of the fallout that was to come, said one major investor who was briefed on it: the upending of daily life for the entire country."
Moreover, at least some of the elite traders who had access to information from the administration used it to "gain financial advantage during a chaotic three days when global markets were teetering."
Anticipating that the stock prices of companies were on the verge of falling, one investor who had access to the memo made the recommendation to, in Wall Street lingo, "short everything," or, bet on that outcome. Others "stocked up on toilet paper and other household essentials" weeks before the general public was made aware of the severity of the pandemic.
"So disgusting," said epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding. "They knew."
The recent revelation, published late Wednesday night, follows last month's groundbreaking news that the president spent months knowingly misleading the public about the danger posed by the pandemic, utterly failing to use experts' insights to avert a catastrophic outcome.
As Common Dreams reported in early September, Trump chose to withhold information about Covid-19 from the public in order to "play it down." Despite understanding as early as January that the coronavirus was transmitted via airborne particles and caused a lethal disease, the president sowed debate and confusion about risks and safety measures—undermining recommendations made by epidemiologists and committing what some called "reckless homicide."
"Trump has mismanaged this crisis from the beginning," said Herring, "and it's long past time for his administration to stop lying to the public and ensure that relief finally reaches the families that need it most."