Jonathan Karl's new book "Betrayal" begins by explaining that Donald Trump's hand was the last that he shook in 2020, as the former president joked around about what he might "get" from the reporters. The moment became even more bizarre when Trump lied about the whereabouts of Vice President Mike Pence, resulting in none of the reporters shaking hands with him.
The peculiar moment, which happened on March 4, 2020, was a week before the national lockdown and ban of European travelers coming into the United States.
Karl recalls Trump reaching out his hand, speculating on whether the reporters in the meeting about the White House Correspondents dinner could kill him.
"What am I going to catch from you," Trump said. "What the hell am I going to catch from you?"
Pence then walked in after meeting with members on Capitol Hill about what would be the first of three COVID-19 relief packages.
"As Pence walked in, Trump made another joke about shaking hands," Karl recalled.
"Mike has just been meeting with [coronavirus victims] at the hospital," Trump lied. "Would you like to shake his hand?"
"Of course, Pence had not just been at the hospital and, regardless, we did not shake his hand," he said.
Trump, a self-described germaphobe, ushered in an era of hand sanitizer long before COVID hit.
"If you're the perpetrator of a cough or of a sneeze or any kind of thing that makes you look sick, you get that look," a former Trump campaign told Politico. "You get the scowl. You get the response of — he'll put a hand up in a gesture of, you should be backing away from him, you should be more considerate and you should extricate yourself from the situation."
After a long moment of Karl watching Trump ignore the VP, standing "awkwardly" next to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Pence finally spoke up about the status of the bill.
Karl noted the detachment Trump exhibited. Bob Woodward's book Rage revealed that Trump knew full well that COVID was "deadly." He made it clear that it wasn't "just old people" who were dying. He later repeated the claim to Woodward in a March 19 conversation where he confessed that he intentionally played down the virus to avoid "panic." Ultimately it has killed over 700,000 people with a large number of Trump's own followers refusing to believe it's real or refusing to be vaccinated.
The ABC News reporter thought it odd that Trump "was jovial, joking about shaking hands. He made Pence, who was not just vice president but also the head of the coronavirus task force, stand there and listen to me talk about the Democratic primaries before allowing him to speak about the pandemic. He simply didn't seem all that interested in the virus that would come to define his presidency.
Karl went on to reveal that in the early days of the pandemic, Trump asked former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) to take over the COVID-19 responsibilities because Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar wasn't strong enough. He later called Christie back withdrawing his offer, claiming it was "too small and too temporary" of a job for him. Instead, he appointed Pence.
"This isn't too small or too temporary," Christie said. But Trump insisted, saying, "I'm not going to drag you down here for this. After I get reelected, I'm going to bring you down here big-time. But I'm just going to let Mike [Pence] do this."
That would seemingly get withdrawn as well when, in early April, Jared Kushner took over behind the scenes and Trump ultimately began doing his own daily briefings.
Karl's book "Betrayal" is out Wednesday and you can read more about it here.
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