Trump team’s infections raise questions about Covid-19 aboard ‘the flying White House’

The positive coronavirus test for a high-profile Air Force One passenger raises the possibility that has concerned aviation experts for months: that the virus can easily spread inside a confined aircraft cabin.



a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 16: Air Force One is seen for  U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)


© Chris Graythen/Getty Images
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 16: Air Force One is seen for U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to the NASCAR Cup Series 62nd Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 16, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Experts fear the infection potentially puts at risk hundreds of people who travel on, operate and maintain “the flying White House” — threatening not only a highly recognizable icon of America, but also the smooth operation of a key national security tool used to evacuate the president in a crisis.

Administration officials said Friday that presidential senior adviser Hope Hicks was showing coronavirus symptoms while she flew on the world’s most famous jet earlier this week, raising the concern her infection could be linked to the infections of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump.

Experts have cautioned that during the pandemic, the unique air flow dynamics in the confined cabin of a jetliner — even one as large as the Boeing 747-200, known in the military as a VC-25 — could put unmasked passengers at a risk of catching the deadly virus.

Administration officials said Friday that Hicks began displaying symptoms on the flight back from the President’s Wednesday rally in Minnesota and was isolated in a separate cabin. She was seen deplaning Air Force One from a rear set of steps not typically used by the President.

“Social distancing is much easier on Air Force One than any commercial airliner,” said Professor Yan Chen of Purdue University, a researcher who studies the airborne spread of coronavirus inside an airliner. Chen said most passengers do not sit in cramped rows on board the multi-room, highly modified jet, “but complete isolation is very difficult.”

Chen said the air onboard large jets, including commercial airliners and Air Force One, is typically filtered through High Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, filters, which are designed to catch most particles. The result is the air even on large planes is completely replaced every few minutes.

Air Force One also carries a special onboard oxygen system, although its capabilities aren’t clear.

Commercial airlines insist air filters make flying in a plane safer than sitting in a shared room in a building. But it does not eliminate the risk of contracting the virus when a contagious passenger is onboard.

“If you have a patient inside of an airplane, then the droplets breathed out by this patient could be transported in the airplane,” he said.

The White House said the 747 typically used as Air Force One (the term can refer to any aircraft carrying the President) features “4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels, including an extensive suite for the President that features a large office, lavatory, and conference room.” CNN journalists who

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Behind Woodward’s September surprise: White House aides saw a train wreck coming, then jumped aboard

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Trump also urged his senior staff members to grant Woodward access and time, allowing him to interview several top aides, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger and former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others. Often Trump would urge aides to call Woodward directly during the reporting process and kept asking West Wing aides when the book would come out.

Throughout the process, several top aides raised concerns among themselves about the access and where it would lead. And they worried about the president’s tendency to overshare his ideas in often blunt language. But aides also resigned themselves to the months-long process of Woodward interviews and calls, knowing the president was interested himself.

“Sometimes the president does a nontraditional thing, and you get a surprising result,” said one senior administration official. “But I don’t think any of us recommended doing it.”

On Wednesday, Trump called the book “another political hit job” — despite the recordings of the president’s own words. And he defended the way he downplayed the virus early on by saying that “you cannot show a sense of panic or you’re going to have bigger problems that you ever had before. Please.”

When asked why the president would sit down with Woodward for 18 interviews when his first book was so critical, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it was because Trump was the “the most transparent president in history.”

McEnany spent most of a press briefing on Wednesday answering questions about the excerpts of the book, contradicting the president’s own words released in audio recordings. “The president never downplayed the virus. Once again, the president expressed calm,” she said in trying to explain the gap between the president’s public versus private comments on the virus.

Democrats pounced on the revelations, believing they demonstrated why Trump did not deserve reelection this fall. “It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” former Vice President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday ahead of an event in Warren, Mich. “He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people.”

“The president’s own words spell out the devastating truth: Trump was fully aware of the catastrophic nature of the coronavirus but hid the facts and refused to take the threat seriously, leaving our entire country exposed and unprepared,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

In response to the book’s revelations, White House aides quickly started blame one another. Newer White House staffers tried to pin the decision to help Woodward on previous offices or particular aides, even though the president himself made the call to work with the author.

The interviews took place over a few iterations of the White

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White House aides saw a train wreck coming, then jumped aboard

He offered lengthy meetings in the Oval Office and made phone calls at night from the White House — delivering Bob Woodward an unprecedented nine hours of access across 18 interviews.



Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: As the White House and Trump campaign sought to tell a different story this fall about their handling of coronavirus, the book’s release is renewing attention on the President Donald Trump's early missteps.


© Evan Vucci/AP Photo
As the White House and Trump campaign sought to tell a different story this fall about their handling of coronavirus, the book’s release is renewing attention on the President Donald Trump’s early missteps.

Aides spent months fretting about President Donald Trump opening up to the famous Watergate journalist, fearing the consequences all the way through Wednesday’s bombshell revelations.

Trump bulldozed through them all, believing he could charm the man who helped take down a president and chronicled half a dozen administrations over the past half century.

Now Trump’s impulse may cost him as the interview transcripts and recordings are released this week, just under just eight weeks from Election Day and as some Americans start receiving mail-in ballots. The revelations in “Rage” have sent the Trump White House scrambling, with aides blaming each other for the predictable fallout from injecting even more chaos into an already challenging reelection race.

“You don’t talk the president out of things,” one White House official said Wednesday, one of 10 current and former White House officials who described the circumstances leading up to the latest book.

The interviews revealed that Trump was not candid with the public about the dangers of Covid-19, with the president telling Woodward he was “playing it down” even though it was possibly five times “more deadly” than the flu. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said in one audio clip released Wednesday.

As the White House and Trump campaign sought to tell a different story this fall about their handling of coronavirus, the book’s release is renewing attention on the president’s early missteps in a crisis that continues to disrupt hundreds of millions of American lives. The book’s rollout will continue this weekend as Woodward sits for a “60 Minutes” interview ahead of its wide release on September 15. CBS said Wednesday that the segment will also feature audio recordings of the president’s interviews.

In 2018, White House aides shielded Trump from an interview for his book “Fury” because they didn’t want to give the author more ammunition than he already had. The book was withering — portraying the Trump administration suffering a “nervous breakdown” with anecdotes from current and former aides inside and outside the administration.

Trump learned about the book late in the process and called Woodward in frustration. “It’s really too bad because nobody told me about it and I would have loved to have spoken to you,” he said in audio released by the Washington Post at the time.

He made clear to aides that he would participate in the next book, convinced that he could charm and cajole a veteran Washington journalist into seeing his point of view.

At least two sit-downs with the president occurred in the Oval

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