Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19 three days before his first presidential debate with Joe Biden and days earlier than that diagnosis was previously disclosed, according to a new book by Trump's former chief of staff.
In The Chief's Chief, obtained by The Guardian before its December 7 release, Mark Meadows writes that the-president received a negative test shortly after the positive test and resumed his usual activities, including attending the September 2020 debate against his Democratic challenger.
Trump on Wednesday denied Meadows' claim.
The revelation, if confirmed, would further show the Trump White House did not take the virus seriously even as it spread among White House and campaign staff and eventually sent Trump to the hospital, where he required supplemental oxygen and experimental treatments.
The former president said Meadows' story "is fake news. In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate."
The book's publisher, All Seasons Press, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The White House began a testing regimen for Trump's senior aides and those who would be in contact with him after earlier positive cases. But aides repeatedly refused to disclose when Trump was tested the week of the debate, leading to speculation he may have had COVID-19 while on stage with Biden.
Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News had said previously he believed Trump may have had COVID-19 at the debate because of the virus' incubation period.
Trump was 74 and Biden was 78 at the time, putting them at higher risk of serious complications from the virus. COVID-19 vaccines were not then available.
Trump tweeted on October 2, 2020, that he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. He was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that day.
But Meadows writes Trump first tested positive on September 26, three days before the debate and the same day he held a Rose Garden ceremony for his final Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. Trump travelled that evening to a rally in Pennsylvania.
Meadows, Trump's fourth and final chief of staff, said he received a call from the White House doctor as Trump's helicopter was lifting off for the rally. Meadows says he was informed Trump had tested positive and was instructed to stop the president departing.
When Meadows told Trump of the result, the president's reply, "rhyme(d) with 'Oh spit, you've gotta be trucking lidding me'.'
But Meadows said the test was done with an old-model kit and he told Trump it would be repeated with a newer version. After "a brief but tense wait", Meadows reported the second test was negative.
Trump took that result as "full permission to press on as if nothing had happened", Meadows wrote.
Meadows noted both candidates were required to test negative for the virus within 72 hours of the debate, but "nothing was going to stop (Trump) from going out there".
Australian Associated Press