Foreign diplomats are scrambling to figure out how the iconoclastic American President will cope with his COVID-19 diagnosis and hospitalization, chasing rumors from the ridiculous — that he might somehow put his daughter in charge — to darker fears that U.S. adversaries like Iran or China might take advantage of this turbulent moment.
Trump’s hours-long silence after tweeting his positive diagnosis early Friday morning fed rumor and disinformation, foreign officials and Republican advisors both say. For several hours on Friday, a White House defined by Trump as its master, if not sole communicator, seemed frozen and slow to respond to queries even from Trump’s inner circle, the two GOP advisors say.
Video of Trump walking to Marine One to fly to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and his tweeted video message to well-wishers may reassure some, but his pale demeanor and infamously rocky relationship with the truth has laid the groundwork for skepticism toward the White House claims late Friday that the President was “fatigued” and only being moved to the hospital for “tests.” That language mirrors official statements from the British government when Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to the hospital for “routine tests” as a “precautionary measure” before later admitting to the British public that he nearly died.
The President’s “loose association with the truth isn’t just a domestic problem, clearly it’s a huge foreign national security problem,” one of the GOP advisors says. “People just don’t trust this Administration.” The advisor said she was met with ominous silence when asking for talking points, when someone like Vice President Mike Pence should have been “giving full-throated updates” throughout the day.
The second advisor, who was waiting for his own test results and quarantining because he recently met with the President, was also frustrated that the Administration went so quiet. While he says it was helpful that Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released statements that they are both healthy, signaling continuity of government, for several hours on Friday morning, the White House was not providing Trump’s campaign surrogates with talking points to help reassure Americans or foreign allies. In the information void, he says the rumors and disinformation were running rampant: “One ambassador from a very sophisticated country actually said, ‘Is there any way Trump could finagle his daughter to be President?’”
As world leaders like Jordan’s King Abdullah tweeted their good wishes for the President and First Lady Melania’s recovery, their representatives in Washington spent Friday glued to news coverage to glean the most up-to-date information. Some resourceful nations sent direct missives to the West Wing, as a roundabout way to make polite contact with a White House gone mostly mum.
Three current diplomats in Washington downplayed the lack of communication, saying they hadn’t