WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he has not seen memos in which one of his top advisers warned earlier this year that a coronavirus pandemic could endanger millions of Americans, but that even if he had, it would not have changed his response to the crisis.
Peter Navarro, the top trade and manufacturing aide to the president, laid out the warning in two memos – one on Jan. 29 and another on Feb. 23 – while Trump played down concerns about the coronavirus, according to reports from the New York Times and Axios.
Trump said he didn’t know about the memos until a couple of days ago. “I asked him about it a little while ago because I read something about a memo,” Trump said during a White House coronavirus briefing.
Trump downplayed Navarro’s warnings, arguing that he already had started to move to shut down U.S. borders by the time the memos were written.
“Ultimately, I did more or less what the memo said right around the time the memo came out,” Trump said.
In his first memo, Navarro wrote that the lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine "would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” according to the Times. “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans."
The second memo, which was addressed to Trump and was unsigned but attributed to Navarro, laid the groundwork for supplemental requests from Congress, Axios reported.
“This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill,” Navarro wrote in the second memo sent on Feb. 23. The memo also 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 of as many as 1.2 million souls," according to the Times.
Despite the warnings from Navarro, Trump has claimed that "nobody" could have predicted the coronavirus pandemic.
"I would view it as is something that just surprised the whole world," he said on March 19. "And if people would have known about it, it could have stopped – stopped being in place. Nobody knew there'd be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before."
During remarks on March 26, Trump said: "Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened."
Trump defended his remarks, telling reporters Tuesday that the number of coronavirus cases “really didn’t build up for a while” and that he didn’t want to cause unnecessary panic.
“I am a cheerleader for this country,” he said. “I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else.”
Even so, “I obviously was concerned about it because I closed down our country to China, which was heavily infected,” Trump said.
Trump announced on Jan. 31 that the U.S. would ban most foreign nationals who had been to China the two previous weeks from traveling to the United States.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Donald Trump says he never saw aide's warning memos