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One of the many, mutually exclusive excuses the Trump administration has provided for its profound delay in responding to the coronavirus is that they were fooled by reports of the outbreak coming out of China. “I will be very candid with you,” Mike Pence explained on CNN last week, “and say that in mid-January the CDC was still assessing that the risk of the coronavirus to the American people was low. … The reality is that we could’ve been better off if China had been more forthcoming.”
Pence, too, could have been more forthcoming about the information the administration was privy to, according to a new report from ABC News. According to two officials familiar with a report from the military’s National Center for Medical Intelligence, the White House was aware of a contagion which is now known to be COVID-19 as early as November. According to ABC News, the report, made up of data intercepts and satellite imagery, determined that the coronavirus was a potential threat to U.S. troops in the region. “Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event,” a source told ABC News. “It was then briefed multiple times to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and the White House.”
Though Defense Secretary Mark Esper told ABC News on Sunday that the National Security Council was not briefed about the matter in December, the ABC News report says that the administration was aware of its contents as early as Thanksgiving:
The NCMI report was made available widely to people authorized to access intelligence community alerts. Following the report’s release, other intelligence community bulletins began circulating through confidential channels across the government around Thanksgiving, the sources said. Those analyses said China’s leadership knew the epidemic was out of control even as it kept such crucial information from foreign governments and public health agencies.
“The timeline of the intel side of this may be further back than we’re discussing,” the source said of preliminary reports from Wuhan. “But this was definitely being briefed beginning at the end of November as something the military needed to take a posture on.”
The report adds to many Americans concerns that the Trump administration’s sluggish response compounded the crisis in the U.S., where hospitals have had to make due with a critical lack of resources and access to testing has been a distant dream. Though his administration was being briefed on the virus almost two months before, Trump made his first public comments on January 22, telling CNBC that “we have it totally under control … it’s going to be just fine.” It is possible Trump may have thought just that, as placing the key warning in his daily briefing is a poor way to ensure he is informed, as Trump notoriously refuses to read intelligence reports.
Although the president has managed to skate through the crisis without it harming his approval ratings, a poll released on Wednesday suggests he may soon be taking a hit for underselling the crisis for almost two full months: