CLAIM: President Donald Trump “fired the entire White House pandemic team.”
VERDICT: Partly false. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton “dissolved” the pandemic office but staff remained to deal with the issue.
Last month, Democrats tried a new way of blaming Trump for the coronavirus outbreak. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg claimed during the Democrat debate in South Carolina that Trump “fired the pandemic specialist in this country two years ago, so there’s nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing. [Applause] And he’s defunded Centers for Disease Control, CDC so we don’t have the organization we need.”
Breitbart News rated that “Mostly False.” We noted:
In reality, the pandemic expert — Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer — left the National Security Council (NSC) voluntarily after then-National Security Advisor John Bolton was appointed.
Bolton disbanded the unit that Ziemer was supervising as part of an effort to downsize the bloated NSC staff…
The Trump administration has indeed proposed cuts to the CDC, but they have not been passed by Congress.
Moreover, some of the experts who had been part of the office remained on staff at the National Security Council.
Earlier this week, Democrats asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the president’s coronavirus team who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, about the decision to cut the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense. He was asked whether it had been a “mistake.”
Fauci said no, but added that it would also have been “nice” to have it around.
“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as a mistake. I would say we worked very well with that office. It would be nice if the office was still there,” he said.
Media are leaving out the first sentence. "I wouldn't necessarily characterize it as a mistake. I would say we worked very well with that office. It would be nice if the office was still there." https://t.co/CNs5O35vzX
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) March 14, 2020
The media largely ignored the first sentence and focused on the second.
On Friday, the former head of the pandemic office, Beth Cameron, wrote a lengthy op-ed in the Washington Post complaining about the decision to “dissolve” her unit.
She admitted she did not know “whether the decision to disband the directorate, which was made in May 2018, after John Bolton became national security adviser, was a tactical move to downgrade the issue or whether it was part of the White House’s interest in simplifying and shrinking the National Security Council staff.”
But she argued the decision created “unclear structure and strategy for coordinating pandemic preparedness and response.”
Still, she did not claim all the experts had been fired.
Also on Friday, a journalist at President Donald Trump’s press conference on coronavirus in the Rose Garden at the White House asked the president about the decision to cut the office. Trump said he did not know about it — which he may not have, since it was a decision made by Bolton.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) took to Twitter to accuse the president of lying, and added that Trump had “fired the entire White House pandemic team.”
— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) March 13, 2020
After his tweet was retweeted by a New York Times reporter, several former NSC officials began to push back.
Former senior NSC official Tim Morrison — who testified in the impeachment hearings — called Sen. Brown’s claim “total garbage”:
— Tim_Morrison (@Tim_Morrison) March 13, 2020
Former NCS official Richard Goldberg noted that the staff in question were still at the White House:
Weird. A year later I was inside the NSC working with talented global health/biodefense professionals who coordinated an incredibly effective response to Ebola. They’re still there. Working hard. On #Covid_19. https://t.co/XSoBtXtAC5
— Richard Goldberg (@rich_goldberg) March 13, 2020
Ultimately, the argument is about whether the office should have been kept as a separate unit, or whether its functions could be done just as well by employees working in other parts of the organizational structure.
Fauci, who is a rare case of an expert whose opinion is valued by both sides, said it was not a “mistake” to cut the office but that it would be “nice” if it were still there. He may agree with the criticism — but only up to a point.
At some point it is worth questioning whether now is the best time for Democrats to be looking for a way to blame the president, or a way to help him — after wasting weeks on impeachment while he was tackling coronavirus.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.