National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien pushed back Wednesday against allegations that President Trump cost American lives with his response to the coronavirus pandemic, arguing instead that the president’s actions had saved thousands of lives.
Criticism of the president ramped up earlier Wednesday after The Washington Post released audio of Trump telling journalist Bob Woodward he preferred to downplay the threat from the virus in order to avoid causing panic. downplayed the virus’ threat in order to avoid panicking the American people.
“What they’re saying just is flatly wrong,” O’Brien told “Special Report” anchor Bret Baier. “It’s not true. Look, the president saved thousands and thousands of lives, first by making the decision on January 30 and announcing on January 31 that we’re banning travel from China. Second, by standing up the biggest industrial program to create ventilators.
“Remember at the start of this, Bret, folks were saying that the doctors are going to have to make terrible decisions and give young people ventilators and take old people off ventilators and all that sort of thing. That never happened … the stockpile of ventilators that we inherited was diminished. We rebuilt the stockpile, we made sure that every American who needed a ventilator had one, and we’ve given out over 16,000 ventilators around the world, so that’s what we were standing up in February. So it was saving lives.”
O’Brien also claimed that Trump made his comments to Woodward while the world was getting false information about the virus from China and the World Health Organization.
“The president took extraordinary action to save people’s lives, but at the time that he made those statements, we were being told by many people, by the WHO, by the Chinese themselves — that turned out not to be true — by public health professionals here, that there wasn’t a risk, that the virus would go away with warm weather and things like that,” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) previously labeled the risk “moderate” but by the end of January, said that was incorrect. The risk, the organization said, was “very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level.”
“All of those things were being told to us. It turned out they weren’t true, unfortunately, but the president was taking action notwithstanding what the establishment and the general opinion of this virus was. He was taking action to prepare for the worst and he saved thousands of lives as a result.”
O’Brien did confirm one aspect of Woodward’s reporting, saying that he told President Trump in late January that coronavirus would be the biggest national security threat he would face during his presidency.
He also denied seeing any disparity between what Trump told Woodward about the virus and how he handled the pandemic publicly.
“I’m not a public health professional or a doctor,” he said. “We thought that this would be — could potentially be — a widespread pandemic … at the time, we saw the threat of a pandemic. The president took extraordinary action but, at the same time, he didn’t want to panic folks and the public health professionals and the WHO and others were downplaying the threat.
“So, I think he took just the right approach,” O’Brien concluded. “He was calm, he was resolute, he was confident and … we’ve done things that haven’t been done since World War II in this country.”