Without sharing details, the White House’s top medical officer said the pressures of the job were weighing on him, according to two people familiar with his remarks.
Conley now finds himself at the epicenter of the most acute crisis to confront a White House physician in decades: President Trump’s hospitalization after contracting a lethal virus whose risks the president has repeatedly minimized.
Conley’s handling of the situation has come under intense criticism after he gave a rosy pronouncement of Trump’s status Saturday without disclosing that the president had been given supplemental oxygen or put on a steroid reserved for severely ill coronavirus patients.
The White House physician finally disclosed those details Sunday, acknowledging that Trump’s oxygen level had dropped at one point. He said that he had not shared the information initially because he did not want to cause alarm.
“I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, over his course of illness, has had,” Conley said. “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction. And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true. . . . The fact of the matter is that he’s doing really well.”
But long before the president contracted a virus especially lethal to older people, some of Conley’s former colleagues said they were disappointed in what they view as his lack of independence from White House politics.
“Every statement he is giving appears to be political, dictated by the White House or the president,” said one person who has worked with him, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the White House. “These are not the statements a medical doctor gives.”
Conley did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement, White House spokesman Judd Deere said, “The fact that this publication has chosen to write a hit piece on the President’s physician, who is an officer in the U.S. Navy, at this critical time is outright disgusting and irresponsible.”
Deere added that Conley is an eminently qualified and “talented physician with a wealth of experience well-suited to serve President Trump and ensure he fully recovers from COVID-19 and remains very healthy to continue his work on behalf of the American people,” he added.
Questions about Conley began bubbling this spring when he treated Trump with hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial treatment touted by the president as a wonder drug, even as some studies showed it could increase the risk for some patients. In a May 18 memo, Conley said he concluded that “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.”
The White House has also repeatedly cited Conley in statements asserting that the administration was properly mitigating the risks of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, despite the fact that the president and his aides have eschewed masks and held public gatherings. In March, after a