Donald Trump 'tested positive for Covid ahead of debate with Joe Biden,' says former top aide

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Mr Trump had tested positiive for Covid-19 in the days leading up to the first election debate with rival Joe Biden according to a new book – CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH/EPA-EFE /Shutterstock

Former president Donald Trump tested positive for Covid-19 three days before the first TV debate against Joe Biden, his former chief of staff has claimed in a new book.

Mark Meadows, Mr Trump’s fourth and final chief of staff, writes that he knew Mr Trump had “to test negative for the virus within seventy two hours of the start time” but that “nothing was going to stop [Trump] from going out there”. Extracts of the book were obtained by The Guardian.

Mr Meadows says that Mr Trump returned a negative test shortly after the initial positive.

The revelation has reignited speculation about whether the then 74-year-old Trump had coronavirus when he went face to face with the then 77-year-old Joe Biden.

Mr Trump debates with Joe Biden in Cleveland – Reuters

The former president announced he had Covid-19 on October 2, three days after that debate in Cleveland. When the White House announced it, they said they had done so within one hour of the positive result. The following day, Mr Trump was hospitalised.

Mr Meadows writes that Mr Trump tested positive on September 26, after looking a “little tired” and having a suspected “slight cold”.

In a statement Wednesday, Mr Trump said the episode did not occur.

“The story of me having Covid prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News. In fact, a test revealed that I did not have Covid prior to the debate,” he said.

He tested positive shortly after an event in the White House Rose Garden for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

That event (pictured below), in which few attendees wore masks or socially distanced, is widely considered a super-spreader event, after a number of those present, including Mr Meadows, caught Covid-19 in the aftermath.

Guests watch as US President Trump introduces Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House while Covid goes about its hidden business – Getty Images

Despite the symptoms, Mr Trump flew to a rally in Pennsylvania as scheduled that evening, before the White House doctor called Mr Meadows to inform him of the news.

When Mr Meadows passed the news on to Mr Trump, the former president's response “rhymed with: 'Oh spit, you've gotta be trucking lidding me',” the chief of staff wrote.

The sample was then re-run, returning a negative result the second time, which indicates an initial false positive. The public were not informed of this initial positive result.

“I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks,” Mr Meadows writes, “but I also didn’t want to alarm the public if there was nothing to worry about – which according to the new, much more accurate test, there was not.”

On debate day, 29 September, Meadows says, Mr Trump looked slightly better, though he placed “emphasis on the word slightly”.

“His face, for the most part at least, had regained its usual light bronze hue, and the gravel in his voice was gone. But the dark circles under his eyes had deepened. As we walked into the venue around five o’clock in the evening, I could tell that he was moving more slowly than usual. He walked like he was carrying a little extra weight on his back.”

The host, Chris Wallace of Fox News, later said Mr Trump was not tested before the debate because he arrived late. Organisers, Mr Wallace said, relied on an honour system.

Mr Meadows’ memoir, titled All Seasons Press, is due to be published next week.

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