Trump Says He Never Read, Looked for Memo Warning of Possible Coronavirus Pandemic

President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he never read or considered reading a memorandum in which his top trade adviser warned of the need to implement an "aggressive containment" strategy to prevent a massive loss of life and economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The document in question was authored in January by the White House Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, Dr. Peter Navarro, and submitted to the president via National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien.

In it, he warned of "an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life as many as 1-2 million souls."

Navarro, a maverick Harvard-educated economist who has long advocated a tougher stance against Chinese trade practices, pressed for "an immediate travel ban on China" as part of an "aggressive containment" strategy to mitigate what a Council of Economic Advisers study predicted could be a $3.8 trillion loss in terms of economic act as a result of a pandemic.

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But when asked about the memorandum during a White House press briefing on Tuesday, Trump said he did not see it at the time.

"I heard he wrote some memos talking about a pandemic," Trump said. "I didn't see them, I didn't look for them either."

White House Coronavirus Task Force Daily Briefing
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters following a meeting of the coronavirus task force in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 7. The president today removed the independent chairman of a committee tasked with overseeing the roll out of the $2 trillion coronavirus bailout package. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Pressed further on when he became aware of the memorandum's existence, Trump said he asked Navarro about the documents "just a little while ago" after reading about them.

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"I said: 'Did you do a memo?'" Trump recalled, adding that he still neither looked for the document, saw the document, or asked Navarro to show him the document.

When it was pointed out to Trump that he'd been downplaying the seriousness of the threat from COVID-19 at the time Navarro penned his memos warning of the consequences ignoring it could bring, Trump defended his nonchalant attitude as part of being a "cheerleader" for the US.

"Well, the cases really didn't build up for a while, but you have to understand, I'm a cheerleader for this country," he said.

"I don't want to create havoc and shock and everything else but ultimately, when I was saying that I'm also closing it down I obviously was concerned about it because I closed down our country to China, which was heavily infected," he continued, adding later that at the time he was "not going to go out and start screaming: This could happen! This could happen!"

While Trump has frequently bragged of having "closed down" travel from China on February 2, the measures he implemented ended up being far from what Navarro pushed for.

Instead, the restrictions applied only to foreign nationals traveling to the United States after visiting the People's Republic of China, with specific exemptions for travelers coming from the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao. U.S. citizens and permanent residents were also exempt from the restrictions, and incoming flights did not stop landing at U.S. airports until several weeks later. Nearly 40,000 people arrived on inbound flights from China in the 60 days after Trump imposed the partial restrictions he now touts as a ban, according to The New York Times.

Correction, April 8, 2020, 2:50 p.m.: This article has been updated to remove Taiwan from the jurisdictions exempted from the travel restrictions on visitors from China. While the restrictions did not apply to Taiwanese citizens who had not visited mainland China before traveling to the United States, they did not specifically exempt Taiwan.

Trump Says He Never Read, Looked for Memo Warning of Possible Coronavirus Pandemic | U.S.