"Fox isn’t so easy either," Trump told reporter John Roberts. "Don’t kid yourselves"

By Sean Neumann
April 02, 2020 01:05 PM
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Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty

President Donald Trump didn’t seem too happy that Fox News reporter John Roberts on Wednesday brought up his administration’s decision to disband the National Security Council’s pandemic unit in 2018.

Trump, 73, quickly labeled Roberts’ question “false” before Roberts could ask more about the move to cut funding to the group that left experts in the field “mystified,” according to its former director.

The president has previously suggested he was not personally involved in that decision.

At Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing, Roberts began his question by mentioning criticism Trump had faced over the decision about the pandemic group — before the president cut him off and scolded him for mentioning it.

“What are you, working for CNN?” Trump asked.

While Roberts continued to try to ask his question, Trump called the story untrue and interrupted him before he could finish.

“Fox isn’t so easy either,” Trump said. “Don’t kid yourselves.”

“You shouldn’t be repeating a story that you know is false,” he said to Roberts.

The president has a history of tangling with reporters whom he deems too negative and he has dismissed the news media as the “enemy of the people.” In recent weeks, he snapped at both a PBS and NBC News reporter over their coronavirus questions.

According to reports, the Trump administration disbanded the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense in 2018, which was set up in 2016 under President Barack Obama following the deadly Ebola outbreak in Africa.

The office was designed to make sure the U.S. was prepared for the next disease outbreak and ensure it didn’t become a pandemic, according to former director Beth Cameron, who wrote a column in The Washington Post last month about the decision to close the group.

“I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like covid-19,” Cameron wrote then. “The U.S. government’s slow and inadequate response to the new coronavirus underscores the need for organized, accountable leadership to prepare for and respond to pandemic threats.”

President Trump speaks to reporters on April 1, including Fox News reporter John Roberts (purple tie)
| Credit: Shutterstock

Trump previously defended his administration’s push to cut funding for health organizations, when a reporter asked last month whether he regretted the decision to call for less money to the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization.

The president phrased his defense in the terms of a businessman.

“Some of the people we cut, they haven’t been used for many, many years. And if — if we have a need, we can get them very quickly,” Trump said. “And rather than spending the money — and I’m a business person — I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.”

But Cameron argued in the Post that the elimination of the NSC pandemic office directly played into the federal government’s scrutinized response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has now killed at least 4,800 people in America, according to a New York Times tracker.

Cameron wrote in the Post that “it is clear that eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response.”

Trump has previously labeled the fact that his administration disbanded the pandemic unit as “fake news” when PBS’ Yamiche Alcindor asked about it last month.

“Well, I just think it’s a nasty question,” Trump said. “Because what we’ve done is, and [Dr. Anthony Fauci] has said numerous times, that we’ve saved thousands of lives because of the quick closing. And when you say me, I didn’t do it. We have a group of people. I could perhaps ask Tony about that, because I don’t know anything about it. I mean, you say we did that. I don’t know anything about it.”

According to the Associated Press, when asked about the office during a congressional hearing earlier this month, Fauci said, “It would be nice if the office was still there.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as a mistake [to eliminate the unit],” said Fauci, who is a member of the prresident’s coronavirus task force. “I would say we worked very well with that office.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.