WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump is denying that he tested positive for Covid days before his first presidential debate against Joe Biden and before his diagnosis was revealed to the public.
Trump’s statement came in response to a report by The Guardian that Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has written in a new book, “The Chief’s Chief,” that Trump tested positive for Covid on Sept. 26 of last year, three days before the first presidential debate in Cleveland.
“The story of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday morning. “In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate.”
Trump’s first positive result, Meadows wrote, came the same day that the president held a Rose Garden event to announce he would nominate Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, according to The Guardian. More than 150 people attended the Rose Garden event, many of whom did not wear masks or practice social distancing, and a number of attendees later tested positive.
Meadows said Trump also had a negative test that day shortly after the positive one, the newspaper reported. NBC News has not seen a copy of Meadows’ memoir to independently verify the report.
Meadows wrote in his book that while the rules for the Sept. 29 debate said each candidate was required “to test negative for the virus within seventy two hours of the start time … Nothing was going to stop [Trump] from going out there,” according to The Guardian.
It was a few days later, on Oct. 2, that Trump announced he and First lady Melania Trump had tested positive for Covid. Aides initially said the president was experiencing “mild symptoms,” but then he was moved to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that evening.
Trump was later questioned about the timeline of his Covid test during an NBC News town hall. At the Oct. 15 event, Trump told moderator Savannah Guthrie that his first positive Covid test came Oct. 1, saying, “That’s when I first found out about it.” But when pressed further, he gave vague answers about whether he was tested before taking the debate stage given that the rules requested he and Biden come with a negative result.
Asked if he took a Covid test on the day of the Sept. 29 debate, Trump said, “I probably did, and I took a test the day before, and the day before, and I was always in great shape, and I was in great shape for the debate.”
The evening of the debate, city and clinic officials in Cleveland said at least 11 positive coronavirus tests could be traced to members of the media or organizers of the event. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway also tested positive for Covid on Oct. 2. A day later, former Gov. Chris Christie, who attended the Rose Garden event and prepped Trump for his debate, said he was in the hospital after testing positive for Covid earlier in the day.
On Oct. 3, Meadows said in an interview that Trump’s condition took a turn for the worse when his blood oxygen level suddenly dropped, indicating the president’s condition was worse than he and his aides had made public.
Trump returned to the White House on Oct. 5 after receiving the experimental monoclonal antibody treatment at Walter Reed. That day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and two of her deputies tested positive for Covid. In addition to 11 people tied to the president contracting Covid during that time period, three GOP senators also tested positive.
Asked by reporters at the White House on Wednesday whether he thought Trump put him at risk, Biden responded: “I don’t think about the former president.”