The odd series of events surrounding Trump's apparent coronavirus test

Team Trump can't even test the president for a virus without layers of confusion, contradictions, and questions about whom to believe.
Image: Donald Trump, NAT Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during briefing on coronavirus in the Brady press briefing room at the White House on March 14, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP
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By Steve Benen

It was just last weekend when Donald Trump traveled to his private club in south Florida, where he hung out with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and members of his team. In hindsight, that was unwise: we now know that a number of Mar-a-Lago guests who were at the venue last Saturday have either been infected with the coronavirus, are quarantining, or both.

And with this in mind, as last week progressed, it was only natural to wonder whether the American president had been tested for COVID-19. In response to reporters' questions, Trump said on Friday that he "most likely" would be tested for the virus, and it would be done "fairly soon."

Later that evening, however, his team went in the opposite direction. Shortly before midnight, the White House released a letter from Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, who said that the president's interactions with infected people did not put Trump at significant risk, which is why the president did not need to be quarantined. Conley added that because Trump had no apparent symptoms, "testing for Covid-19 is not currently indicated."

At face value, this wasn't entirely in line with the guidance from public-health experts, many of whom have recommended testing for those who've interacted with people who've tested positive. But even putting that aside, a different problem soon emerged: about 13 hours after the White House physician suggested there was no need to test Trump, the White House said Trump had already been tested.

President Donald Trump tested negative for the coronavirus, his doctor announced Saturday. Trump had taken the test Friday to determine whether he has the virus and said it would take a "day or two" for the results to come back from the lab.

Sean Conley, a half-day after saying "testing for Covid-19 is not currently indicated," issued a new statement that said, "One week after having dinner with the Brazilian delegation in Mar-a-Lago, the President remains symptom free."

And while that's certainly good news, the series of events are still a bit confusing. As a New York Times report put it, "It was unclear if Mr. Trump took the test after the letter was released, or if Dr. Conley's letter was a falsehood, or if the physician was misleading in his formulation that a test for the president was 'not currently indicated' -- which did not say directly whether Mr. Trump had been tested."

The same report added that Vice President Mike Pence, who's ostensibly helping oversee the federal response to the outbreak, "was left to handle questions about the president's decision, some of which he did not appear to know how to answer."

I'm not in a position to say with any confidence what transpired here, and it's difficult to say which of the White House's various assertions are true. But I feel like this is a sort of microcosm of a larger problem: Team Trump can't even test the president for a virus without layers of confusion, contradictions, and questions about whom to believe.