The Slatest

Trump Spent the Day He Was Supposed to Have Learned About Russian Bounties Praising His Own Response to the Coronavirus

Trump walks around a corner in a red-carpeted hallway.
Donald Trump at the White House on Friday. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

After the New York Times reported Friday that Donald Trump had ignored warnings that a Russian military intelligence unit may have paid bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan, the White House claimed that the president had never been told about the alleged scheme. According to a Monday New York Times article, though, information about the bounties was included in the “President’s Daily Brief,” a summary of foreign affairs and national security information, on Feb. 27.

The fact that the warning was in the president’s briefing does not necessarily disprove the White House claim that the president didn’t know about it, however. Trump has long been known to ignore the President’s Daily Brief because he doesn’t like to read (seriously). Sometimes people try to tell him what it says, but they can’t force him to process the information. So the White House’s plea of ignorance is somewhat plausible, if not, like, good for the country.

What was Trump doing on Feb. 27 instead of reading the brief? According to the transcript of a White House Black History Month event held that Thursday, his attention was mainly occupied by the idea that he hadn’t gotten enough credit for preventing a coronavirus outbreak in the United States. “We have a situation with the virus. We’ve done a great job. The press won’t give us credit for it,” he said, describing the United States’ response to the threat as an “incredible achievement” on which his administration was “doing incredibly,” “doing great,” had done an “incredible job” and a “fantastic job,” and was “prepared like we never have been prepared.” At the time, there were 15 known cases of the virus in the country, a number he predicted “will soon be down to three or four.” (There have been an additional 2.59 million COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. since this prediction.) Said Trump: “It’s going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”

On the ostensible topic of the day, Trump said that “nobody has done more for Black people than I have” and praised himself for passing a criminal justice reform bill. The event also included minuteslong digressions about the media’s alleged failure to report on the impressive size of his rally audiences, the media’s alleged failure to report on Joe Biden’s verbal gaffes, and CNN commentator Van Jones’ failure to thank him by name for supporting the reform bill during a TV appearance. The complaint about Jones lasted more than three minutes and went on for 633 words.

The Black history event and a subsequent reception were the only activities listed on Trump’s public schedule for Feb. 27 besides morning “pool call time,” which is the White House’s term of art for periods in which the president isn’t doing any tangible work, and the 2:30 p.m. intelligence briefing at which, according to the White House, he did not absorb any intelligence about the alleged Russian bounties.

Later, on Twitter, Trump focused his attention on amplifying Fox Business host Trish Regan’s criticism of CNN’s coronavirus coverage:

Regan “parted ways” from Fox in March after having repeatedly described the virus as a minimally threatening problem that liberal politicians and media figures were overhyping because they wanted to ruin the stock market and damage Trump’s reputation.

And that was it, one day out of the 1,258 and counting since Trump took office. Who knows what he was or wasn’t being briefed about on all the others? Not him!

UPDATE [3:55 p.m.]: A Feb. 27 story from the Daily Beast reported that Trump’s activities that day also included a meeting, not on the official schedule, with the cast and playwright of “a low-budget conservative play about the so-called Deep State,” the script of which drew on “the text messages between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who discussed the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s campaign and Russia while having an affair.” The meeting, featuring Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson, was reportedly supposed to last 15 minutes but stretched on for 45.

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