Trump accused of coronavirus 'cover up' as president faces criticism for giving money to companies he has stake in

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Donald Trump: Drew Angerer/Getty
Donald Trump: Drew Angerer/Getty

The Trump administration has ordered that all top-level coronavirus meetings be treated as classified by federal health officials.

The unusual restriction has resulted in the exclusion of health staffers and government experts without security clearances from interagency meetings.

Officials inside the Trump administration spoke with Reuters, claiming the restrictions have hampered efforts to contain the coronavirus.

“We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go,” an official said. “These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.”

The sources claim the National Security Council ordered the classification.

John Ullyot, an NSC spokesman, claimed any allegations of obfuscation by the agency were incorrect.

“From day one of the response to the coronavirus, NSC has insisted on the principle of radical transparency,” he said.

He maintained that the administration “has cut red tape and set the global standard in protecting the American people under President Trump’s leadership”.

Coronavirus-related meetings at the department of health and human services were held in a “Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility,” which are normally used by military and intelligence operations.

The HHS has the rooms in the event it needs to respond to a chemical or biological attempt.

One of the officials Reuters spoke to for the piece suggested the White House imposed the restrictions not to protect national security but to keep the information limited to an inner circle as a means to prevent leaks.

Critics of the move have called it a ‘cover up.’

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One possible explanation for the secrecy is Donald Trump’s focus on maintaining market stability.

Mr Trump has been downplaying the coronavirus, suggesting that it will be short lived and will go away on its own. On the same day the White House advised the public to avoid large crowds, the president scheduled a rally in Wisconsin. And Fox News pundit Geraldo Rivera went onto Fox News to plead that Mr Trump stop shaking hands with supporters, lest he contract coronavirus himself.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Trump said that the US “consumer is ready, and the consumer is so powerful in our country with what we’ve done with tax cuts and regulations cuts and all of those things,” he said. “The consumer has never been in a better position than they are right now.”

According to the Associated Press, Mr Trump suggested Americans would keep travelling and continue to stimulate the economy regardless of the pandemic.

“You know, a lot of people are staying here and they’re going to be doing their business here,” he said. “They’re going to be travelling here. And they’ll be going to resorts here.”

An ethics lawyer interviewed by the AP, Kathleen Clark, suggested Mr Trump’s focus on economic stability is motivated by self-preservation.

“If there is any public health shutdown of restaurants, conventions, and meetings, that will impact his property and his finances,” she said. “I think a reasonable person can conclude that he is motivated by personal interests.”

In a story by Vanity Fair, Noah Bookbinder, the executive director for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics watchdog group in Washington, suggested it was especially difficult to place Mr Trump’s priorities since he refused to sell his businesses when he became President.

“We have to ask with almost every major policy decision whether he’s acting in the country’s interest or his own interest. In a time of crisis like this, being able to trust our institutions, that our government is making the right decision for our health, economy, and security, is incredibly important,” Mr Bookbinder said.

Electoral concerns may also explain President Trump’s desire to keep information on the outbreak tightly controlled and to keep Americans travelling and spending money.

One of Mr Trump’s most potent campaign talking points is the substantial gains made on the stock market during his time in office. However, stocks have plummeted since the coronavirus made landfall in the US. Though the virus is not the only force tanking the market – Russia and Saudi Arabia are also dueling over oil prices - it is undeniably a major factor.

“The economic ramifications of the coronavirus are increasingly likely to weigh heavily on Trump’s re-election chances and quite possibly could cost him re-election,” Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor, told TIME.

Heading into the election with a weakened economy – or, worse, a recession – puts Mr Trump in a difficult position. If the economy tanks, the response of Mr Trump’s administration – fair or not – will likely be faulted.

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