Trump World Descended on Mar-a-Lago as It Became a Coronavirus Petri Dish

2020-03-14 16:15:11

Jim Watson/AFP via Getty
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty

President Donald Trump’s treatment of the coronavirus pandemic gained a sense of urgency late last week, just as he was forced to grapple with a potential outbreak among his inner circle and at his favorite Florida club.

Two individuals who tested positive at a party last Saturday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, and one more at a Republican fundraiser at the club the next morning, brought the reality of the pandemic right to Trump’s doorstep. But the severity of the exposure may not be fully appreciated. 

Those present at the events, according to a Daily Beast scouring of public social media posts, included Trump family members, administration and campaign aides, donors, activists, at least one staffer for an allied U.S. senator, and some of the president’s most prominent media boosters.

The prospect of an outbreak amid the president’s inner circle was a wake-up call for a president who was initially reluctant to acknowledge the potential scale of the pandemic and convinced that his enemies were inflating its dangers to damage him. On Friday, just hours after his doctor said Trump wouldn’t need to be tested for coronavirus, he was, in fact, tested. The White House announced late Saturday that the test came back negative.

That was about a week after Trump visited Mar-a-Lago with Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, who has self-quarantined and is awaiting the results of a coronavirus test. She reportedly has “flu-like” symptoms, which can resemble those of the virus.

Reporters Hammer Trump on Coronavirus Testing: ‘Are You Being Selfish?’

The Mar-a-Lago event last Saturday night was a birthday party for Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News personality who now dates Donald Trump Jr. Mingling among the roster of Trumpworld luminaries were Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and a coterie of aides, two of whom would test positive for coronavirus in the subsequent days.

A video taken during the party shows Trump and Vice President Mike Pence chatting with Bolsonaro and introducing him to various attendees, including Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson. Standing just feet from Trump and Pence is Fabio Wajngarten, one of the two infected Bolsonaro staffers. The other one, it turns out, was seated at Trump’s table at the event.

The president’s doctor released a statement on Friday evening downplaying the risks of exposure—and saying neither a test nor a self quarantine were necessary at the time. That was a notable contrast from comments by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House coronavirus task force’s top medical expert, who said in an interview on Friday that “standing next to someone” with coronavirus would merit isolation.

Indeed, some attendees at the Mar-a-Lago event who say they did not come nearly as close to a known coronavirus case as Trump did say they’re taking precautions. Ivanka Trump, for instance, stayed home from work on Friday as a precautionary measure due to her apparent exposure. After College Republican National Committee chairman Rick Loughery attended, the CRNC announced it was canceling its annual conference in Washington.

“I was at the party but was not near anyone who has since been reported as infected,” Doug Deason, a high-dollar Republican donor, told The Daily Beast in a text message. “None the less, I have scaled back my activities and am not going around elderly or sick family and friends.”

Any additional “self-quarantining” among attendees could sideline some key figures in the president’s orbit. The guest list at Saturday’s party was stacked. The Trump family was out in force, of course—not just Don Jr. and Ivanka, but also Jared Kushner, Eric Trump, Lara Trump, and Tiffany Trump.

“State Department represents,” wrote Ric Grennell, the acting Director of National Intelligence, in an Instagram post noting attendance by him and State spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. Trump campaign aide Katrina Pierson was there as well, as was RNC spokesperson Kayley McInerny. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, made sure to snap a photo with Bolsonaro.

Beyond Carlson, the Fox News personalities in attendance included Jeanine Pirro, Jesse Watters, and Gina Loudon. Turning Point USA chief Charlie Kirk was there, as was Republican fundraiser Caroline Wren, senior Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) aide Sergio Gor, and Christl Mahfouz, who owns the company that produces much of the Trump campaign’s merchandise, including its iconic MAGA hats.

Those were just some of the more prominent attendees of the roughly fifty that The Daily Beast was able to identify through social media posts. They’re also some of the most prominent people in Donald Trump’s orbit—and they routinely interact with others in the upper echelons of U.S. political power.

Indeed, the night before the birthday party at Mar-a-Lago, Gor and two other attendees, New York publicist Susan Shin and Alabama socialite Danielle Yancey, had gone out to an Italian restaurant in Palm Beach. They were pictured there with, among others, Don Jr. adviser Arthur Schwartz and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who a couple days later would self-quarantine after coming into contact with another coronavirus carrier at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

“Isn’t that Wuhan @repmattgaetz in the middle there?” Schwartz joked in an Instagram comment. Gaetz eventually tested negative for the virus.

CPAC itself marked the first time that the coronavirus threatened to infect the president’s inner circle—or even Trump himself. An attendee who interacted with a number of high-profile guests, including Gaetz and Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the nonprofit that hosts the annual conference, later tested positive for the virus.

For CPAC and Schlapp in particular, it turned into a public relations dilemma. Publicly, Schlapp was toeing the administration line on the virus: fears were largely overblown, thanks mostly to a political press determined to damage the president. The possibility that high-profile attendees had been exposed to the virus would do a number to that narrative. So Schlapp was reduced to insisting that health officials in Maryland, where the conference took place, had “screened” about two thousand attendees, a claim that the hotel that hosted the conference disputed.

Schlapp continues to insist that the hype over coronavirus at CPAC—and the possibility of widespread infection more generally—is overblown. But he also decided, as a precaution, not to attend mass this Sunday, he said on Twitter.

Though he said he was taking precautions, Deason also maintains that the Trump administration is well equipped to keep the coronavirus under control, in spite of its detractors.

“Obviously, the POTUS didn’t have enough resources to deal w/ this virus but ramped up quickly,” he wrote. “He has done his best and all of us deplorables can see that. What the left coasts think is generally irrelevant since they have already been infected w/ Trump derangement syndrome, for which there is no known cure.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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