Defense secretary warns military not to challenge Trump on coronavirus


Defense Secretary Mark Esper told officers not to take efforts against coronavirus that don't fit into Trump's public relations messaging.

The secretary of defense last week warned overseas military commanders not to take measures to fight the novel coronavirus that do not fit into Donald Trump's message that he has the virus under control, the New York Times reported Tuesday morning.

According to the report, Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued the directive via a conference call, telling those military commanders that they must clear any decisions related to coronavirus with Esper himself.

In one instance, Gen. Robert B. Abrams — who leads troops in South Korea, which is facing a major outbreak — told Esper that he may have to make quick decisions without prior approval because of how bad the outbreak is in South Korea, the New York Times reported.

At least one American soldier in South Korea has already tested positive for the virus. The 23-year-old is the first U.S. service member known to be infected.

Esper, however, said that he didn't want Trump — who has recently called concerns about the novel coronavirus a "hoax" — to be surprised, according to the report.

According to reports, Trump worries that an outbreak of the virus in the United States could impact his reelection chances.

To prevent that scenario, Trump has tried to squelch the release of information — putting Mike Pence in charge of the public-facing response and banning others, including public health experts in government, from speaking.

Trump has downplayed the impact of the virus and the related COVID-19 disease, which has to date killed six people. He has also complained that he's not getting enough credit for his work to prevent an outbreak.

On Monday, Trump gave more false assurances during a meeting with a coronavirus task force he assembled about how the flu vaccine could help stop the spread, wrongly saying that a flu vaccine could prevent an outbreak.

"You take a solid flu vaccine — you don't think that would have an impact or much of an impact on corona?" Trump asked the experts gathered for the meeting.

The experts on the panel all responded that Trump's suggestion was wrong.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.