At first blush, the news from the weekend seems routine, anodyne, and uninteresting: Donald Trump had a physical exam over the weekend. As the New York Times reported:
President Trump underwent a two-hour doctor’s examination on Saturday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which the White House said was part of a routine annual physical and included lab work. […]
In a statement, Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Trump, 73, was taking advantage of a free weekend to begin portions of his annual physical, and was anticipating a busy schedule in 2020.
The White House insists this was all quite routine and uncontroversial, and under normal circumstances, I imagine most would accept the official line without much thought. In this case, however, there are a few loose threads to the story that are worth pulling on.
For example, presidents, including this one, generally have physical exams once a year. Trump’s most recent physical, however, was nine months ago. What’s more, Trump’s earlier physicals were included on his official presidential schedule, while this one was not.
There’s also a normal protocol at Walter Reed for routine presidential exams, and according to a CNN report, that protocol was not followed on Saturday. The report, which has not been independently confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, added, “Typically, Walter Reed’s medical staff would get a general notice about a ‘VIP’ visit to the medical center ahead of a presidential visit, notifying them of certain closures at the facility. That did not happen this time, indicating the visit was a non-routine visit and scheduled last minute.”
For his part, Trump declared on Twitter that he’d begun “phase one” of his yearly physical, which seemed odd given that annual physical exams do not usually entail multiple “phases.”
Even if there’s nothing to this – a distinct possibility, to be sure – it doesn’t help matters that every time this president tries to have a physical, something about it seems … odd.
After his exam nine months ago, for example, Dr. Sean Conley said in a statement that Trump is “in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency and beyond.” With Conley unnecessarily adding a prediction about Trump’s post-presidency health, one expert on medical ethics said, “That speculation is both unnecessary and smacks of politically rosy glasses.”
It was part of a pattern. As regular readers may recall, in late 2015, during the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Team Trump released an unintentionally hilarious, four-paragraph letter from Dr. Harold Bornstein, asserting that Trump’s “physical strength and stamina are extraordinary” and his lab tests results were “astonishingly excellent.” The doctor added at the time, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
We learned several months later that Bornstein wrote the letter in five minutes while a limo, dispatched by Trump, waited for the document.
And then, of course, there was Trump’s 2017 physical, which was conducted by Dr. Ronny Jackson – remember him and his doomed bid to become VA secretary? – who became the subject of ridicule after gushing a bit too much about Trump’s health.
Maybe the second “phase” of Trump’s latest physical can be less interesting?
Postscript: The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty, hardly a crackpot conspiracy theorist, wrote in her new column, “The only thing of which we can be fairly certain about President Trump’s mysterious Saturday-afternoon trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is this: The White House is not telling the truth when it claims the president was there ‘to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam.’ We know this because – well, because those people lie about pretty much everything.
“And the compulsion of Trump and his team to contradict the obvious reality that we see with our own eyes is particularly egregious where the president’s health is concerned.”