On February 10, with only a handful of known cases in the United States, Donald Trump had this to say about the epidemic that was then on its way to becoming a pandemic. “I think the virus is going to be, it’s going to be fine. … Looks like by April, you know in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” Two weeks later on February 24, Trump sent out this tweet. “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA… Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
However, even as Trump told the public that everything was going great, behind the scenes White House insiders were passing along a very different story to wealthy Republican donors and members of one of the most influential conservative “think tanks.” At a three day meeting that was supposed to be about the general economic outlook, White House advisers kept returning to the threat of the virus and warning that it could upset everything. What officials were passing along to GOP billionaires and leadership at the Hoover Institute was an early warning that the economic impact of the virus could be severe, that the outcome could not be predicted, and that the CDC was making “dire projections” about the possible course of the virus. And then, of course, those same officials went on television to explain to the public that everything was great.
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As The New York Times reports the briefings to the Hoover Institute generated a memo from an influential hedge fund manager who was a member of that organization’s board. Rightfully concerned by how officials kept bringing up the virus, that manager then sent out a stark warning that resonated through the ranks of wealthy Republican investors. And as news of the memo became more widespread, other investors were even more upset by what they saw happening: The White House was giving a favored few an “early warning” of an event that could potentially be a disaster for the economy, at the same time that everyone else was getting the message all was well.
On February, 26, the day after the meetings at the Hoover Institute concluded, Trump was on the phone telling reporters that the coronavirus was going to turn out to be nothing. “I think that's a problem that’s going to go away,” said Trump. “They have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.”
The White House warning to insiders actually came ten days after the meeting that sent Senators Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler scrambling to make a stock sell off, but news of the briefing given those senators would not become public knowledge until March. Still, it’s clear that investors with a connection to the Trump White House had an inside track on information that would vitally inform the markets, and the economy in general, for months to come.
The memo from Hoover Institute board member was straightforward in its summation of the message the conservative group had been given by Trump’s officials—“a devastating virus outbreak in the United States was increasingly likely to occur, and government officials were more aware of the threat than they were letting on publicly.” Which was exactly the truth. Officials who had expressed their concern about the virus at the Hoover meetings, went right back on television the next day to declare all was well. That includes Larry Kudlow, who was in front of the cameras on February 25—as the meetings were still going on—to explain that, “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight.”
Despite Kudlow’s public statement, the stock market took a 700 point drop on February 25. That followed a day in which the market had been down over 1,000 points. For ordinary people looking in as Trump said all was well, and Kudlow backed him up, that may have seemed like a mystery. But behind the scenes, the money men were already being tipped off that COVID-19 was going to have huge and lasting consequences. The entire stock market was turning on information that was being deliberately shared with a few, and just as deliberately hidden from everyone else.
On February 26, Trump made his declaration that the fifteen identified cases of COVID-19 in the United States “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” What his officials were telling the big money donors behind the Republican Party … we don’t know.
One thing is sure, the Hoover Institute board has done their best to pay Trump back. They have continually authored “reports” saying that the virus is much less deadly than it seems, that it was spread in California by “Chinese nationals,” and that we’re much closer to “herd immunity” than the CDC admits. Then, to seal the deal, the Hoover Institute actually put one of those board members right in the White House—that’s where Trump got Scott Atlas, a retired radiologist with zero experience in either epidemics or infectious disease, who has now become the most important member of the coronavirus task force.