Former Pence Aide Who Spoke Out About President Trump's COVID Response Calls It ‘Frightening’
"I think American lives were continuing to be on the line," she tells NBC Nightly News
In an interview set to air Tuesday night on NBC Nightly News and previewed on the Today show, a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence calls the administration's response to the novel coronavirus pandemic "frightening."
Olivia Troye, who spent six months participating in meetings held by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, left the administration in June.
As for why she decided to speak out about her experience, Troye told Nightly News' Andrea Mitchell, "I felt that, in my heart and in my entire being, I think American lives were continuing to be on the line."
Even as the virus began taking hold in the United States, the president, Troye claimed, was focused on his own image rather than on keeping Americans healthy.
“He was really focused on public image, messaging and it was really more about, you know, his personal agenda than really the agenda that the task force had at hand, which was: 'How are we going to save and protect Americans?' ” Troye said.
Troye added that the task force discussed the severity of the virus at a meeting held in late January, around the same time that the first cases were confirmed in the U.S. A week after that meeting, President Donald Trump said that he expected the virus to "disappear."
"It was frightening," Troye said when asked about Trump's comments publicly understating the severity of COVID-19. "When you're the president, words matter."
Troye's recollections echo Trump's own private statements. In September, veteran journalist Bob Woodward released taped conversations from February, in which the president acknowledged the virus was "deadly stuff," even as he continued to publicly downplay it.
To date, over 200,000 people have died in the U.S. from the respiratory illness, and some 6.8 million Americans have contracted the virus so far, according to a New York Times tracker.
Troye also told Mitchell of a meeting in which Trump allegedly remarked that COVID might not be such a bad thing, as it would mean he wouldn't have to shake so many hands while on the campaign trail.
"I was sitting to the right of him in the room that he said that," Troye told Mitchell, recalling the president's words: " 'You know when you're a politician, you have to shake a lot of hands ... and these people are disgusting, it's gross ... COVID's probably a good thing, right? I don't have to shake hands. I don't have to do that anymore.' "
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According to Troye, the president is less interested in "looking out" for the American people, and more interested in optics.
"He's not looking out for these people," she alleged. "He's not looking out for them. He just wants you in that audience so he can have the camera shot of, you know, his fanfare and the people around him. But the truth is, he's putting those lives at risk.”
Just last week, Troye — a self-described "lifelong Republican," — told the Washington Post that Trump's response to the virus had cost lives and that she would be voting for Democrat Joe Biden for president.
In response to her recent comments, Trump has said he has "no idea who she is," while Pence — who she worked beneath for two years as a Homeland Security and counterterrorism aide — has dismissed her a "disgruntled employee."
And in a press conference Tuesday, retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg disputed Troye’s allegations, saying they “never happened,” and insinuating that the remarks came as the result of her having been fired.
“Olivia Troye worked for me. I fired her,” said Kellogg, who serves as a national security adviser to Pence. “The reason I fired her was her performances started to drop after six months on the task force as a back-bencher.”
“I’m the one that escorted her off the compound,” Kellogg continued. “What she has said, I have never heard. That’s never happened. And I’ve been to every single meeting of the task force … I’m very proud of the president of the United States. I’m very proud of the vice president of the United States. I’m very proud of the task force and the work it’s done. I am not proud of Olivia Troye."
Troye fired back on Twitter, writing, "Sad that Gen. Kellogg is telling a bald-faced lie to protect the President."
"I resigned on my own accord & was asked to stay. He never escorted me out. He knows this. I wrote a note thanking all the colleagues who had worked so hard with me in spite of POTUS & I stand by that."