The drama over whether or not former President Donald Trump tested positive for Covid-19 days before attending the first presidential debate with President Joe Biden last year took an odd turn late on Wednesday afternoon when former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to walk back his own claim.
Mr Meadows originally sparked the drama earlier in the day when The Guardian published excerpts from his upcoming memoir, The Chief’s Chief, in which the former chief of staff described an episode that played out ahead of Mr Trump’s first meeting with Mr Biden.
The former Trump aide described how the president, who was feeling symptoms of a Covid-19 infection, took two tests before arriving on the debate stage. The first returned a positive result, setting off a panic in the West Wing, but a second test returned a negative result, which the president submitted to debate moderators.
Mr Trump would go on to then receive a second positive test result and announce his diagnosis via tweet on October 2, just three days after sharing the debate stage, maskless, with the 78-year-old Biden.
Within hours of the revelation being published by The Guardian, the former president had derided it as “fake news”, and stated that “a test revealed that I did not have Covid prior to the debate”, possibly referring to the second test he took that produced a negative result.
As a result, Mr Meadows would entirely walk back the claim in an interview with the Trump-loyalist channel Newsmax as well as on Twitter, where he retweeted a spokeswoman for the former president who shared Mr Trump’s remarks calling the story a lie.
“Well, the president’s right, it’s fake news,” he said on Newsmax. “If you actually read the context of the book ... that story outlined a false positive [test result].”
The saga was particularly odd given that Mr Trump had previously heaped praise on both the book itself as well as Mr Meadows, who was the final chief of staff during his White House term.
“If you want to learn about politics, truth, our great administration, and exciting achievements that took place in government, pre-order your copy now,” the president said. “Seriously, it’s a fantastic book, and Mark Meadows and his wonderful wife Debbie are great people.”
The efforts by Mr Meadows to patch over the dustup with his former boss comes as he is cooperating with lawmakers on the House select committee investigating the 6 January attack on the US Capitol, which the former president and his supporters have derided as an attempt to embarrass them. The former president has urged his allies to defy the panel, leading to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon facing a contempt of Congress charge.
The panel is still warning publicly that Mr Meadows will face a criminal referral for contempt of Congress as well if he does not comply with all of the panel’s demands for information relating to his and others’ efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.