President Trump would interrupt coronavirus task force meetings with protracted and irrelevant “rants” about his coverage on Fox News, causing his aides to “look down at the floor” in embarrassment, says a former member of the task force.
Even Vice President Mike Pence would “look stressed” at those moments, said Olivia Troye, who until July had served as Pence’s homeland security adviser and top aide on the coronavirus task force, during an interview on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast.
“When the president goes off on these rants and he goes off topic, it’s really just awkward for everybody in the room,” she added.
Troye recently went public with her discontent over how the Trump White House has dealt with the pandemic, taping a campaign ad for an anti-Trump group, Republican Voters Against Trump and, despite being a lifelong Republican, announcing her support for Joe Biden, .
Speaking the day after the vice presidential debate between her former boss and Sen. Kamala Harris, Troye in her “Skullduggery” interview offered new details about uncomfortable moments during meetings of the COVID-19 task force. President Trump would enter and quickly go off topic to talk about politics and his media coverage. Among those who squirmed, she said, was Pence.
“There were times in discussions in the task force where there were some overt political influences and dynamics where the vice president tried to steer the conversation back to the data,” she said. “He respected the scientists. … For him, it was important to him to get the facts.”
But as Troye recalls it, Pence had little success reining in Trump. “There were moments where I saw his body language at times look stressed, at times he looked embarrassed at task force meetings when the president would attend,” she said.
Troye fleshed out one scene she has described before: a meeting in which Trump “sits down and he says, ‘All right, what do we have to talk about,’ and he’s looking through the agenda — then out of the blue, he says, ‘Did anybody watch Tucker Carlson yesterday?’ And goes off for 45 minutes. He talks about how upset he was about his preferred network and what they were saying. And then started to task people in the room. I remember him tasking Hope Hicks or saying to Kellyanne Conway, ‘Who is going to take care of this? Who is going to call them?’
“This is not a rare occurrence. He watches one network. He gets upset if they speak out against him, if they show any daylight between them and him or say anything that shows they’re not 100 percent supportive of him. … I remember looking down at my watch [and thinking], Are we going to get through anything about these decisions that need to be made.”
“We all sometimes looked away or looked down at the table or looked down at the floor when the president would go off on rants when we were actually supposed to be looking through numerous agenda items,” she said.
Among others who were visibly perturbed, according to Troye, was Dr. Anthony Fauci. She recalled one instance when a White House photographer was at one of the task force meetings and captured a revealing picture of Fauci that has never been released.
Fauci “had his head in his hands looking down at the table. That to me [captured] the entire essence of what these people were doing every single day. … I think the world of Dr. Fauci.” She also praised others on the task force, especially Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who was repeatedly “bullied” by the president’s political aides to manipulate the data or make decisions to benefit the president’s electoral prospects. “It was incredible that we had these assets to help us get through this. And they were constantly being undermined by the political inner circle to the president.”
Pence, who strongly defended Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis during Tuesday night’s debate, has previously dismissed the accounts of his former aide. “I haven't read her comments in any detail,” he said last month when Troye first went public. “But it reads to me like one more disgruntled employee that has decided to play politics during an election year. My staff has indicated she made no comments like that when she was serving under our team here at the White House.”
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