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They Knew, And Didn’t Tell Us

While Trump downplayed COVID-19 threat, GOP Intel Committee chief confided to donors that calamity coming
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NPR has a scoop about how the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, warned a private group of wealthy constituents about what was coming from coronavirus, at the same time the government was withholding that information from the public — and President Trump was downplaying it. Excerpts:

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned a small group of well-connected constituents three weeks ago to prepare for dire economic and societal effects of the coronavirus, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR.

The remarks from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr were more stark than any he had delivered in more public forums.

On Feb. 27, when the United States had 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19, President Trump was tamping down fears and suggesting the virus could be seasonal.

“It’s going to disappear. One day, It’s like a miracle. It will disappear,” the president said then, before adding, “it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens.”

On that same day, Burr attended a luncheon held at a social club called the Capitol Hill Club. And he delivered a much more alarming message.

“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” he said, according to a secret recording of the remarks obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

He went on to say we could see the military deployed to assist in the response. Read it all. The story has the audio of the speech.

Look what Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal tweeted on February 25. Keep in mind that legally and ethically, he couldn’t reveal what he heard in a classified briefing, so don’t blame him for not spilling the beans:

Think about it: Trump certainly knew how bad it was going to get, but kept on downplaying it, at a time when being straightforward would have given people time and impetus to prepare. Trump’s most loyal backers then were calling it a hoax, and dunking on people like me for hyping panic, and so forth. This top Senate Republican (and no doubt other Senate Republicans) knew that the president was misleading the public, and said nothing. If he felt comfortable telling wealthy donors about this, why didn’t he tell the general public? Because it would contradict the president’s messaging? Why?

Having senior Republican lawmakers contradicting the president at that relatively early stage, based on information they knew, would have been in the country’s best interest. Sen. Burr told rich, well-connected supporters what was coming, but not the people who elected him. He owes them an explanation. And I would like to know why the Senate Republicans, all of whom surely had the same information, did not challenge the president, and warn the public while we still had time.

Covid-19 obsessives like me saw it coming, but the US then was full of deniers, especially among conservatives. On February 25, US senators were told what was coming. What a difference it would have made if Republicans had come out and told the American people the truth, instead of sticking to the White House line.

UPDATE: Well, well, well. From ProPublica:

Soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions.

As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.

A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline and has lost about 30% since.

To be honest, it’s not his stock-selling that bothers me — it’s that he had reason to believe the coronavirus crisis was going to be a lot worse than he was letting on in public. He ought to have been warning us all. I knew what was coming, and was writing about it here at the time. But I was getting slammed by some conservative readers, who were still buying Trump’s line that it was all hype and hoax. Had a prominent Republican who knew what the true story was come out and told the truth, how much better prepared might more Americans have been?

UPDATE.2: Endorse: