Trump told Guthrie he wasn't sure he was tested at all before the first presidential debate, despite organizers saying that all attendees would have to test negative

By Adam Carlson
October 15, 2020 08:49 PM
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From left: President Donald Trump and Savannah Guthrie at NBC News' town hall
| Credit: Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock (2)

Savannah Guthrie opened the Thursday night NBC News town hall with President Donald Trump pressing him to answer some of the lingering questions about his infection by the novel coronavirus and resulting hospitalization.

In particular Guthrie wanted to know: When had Trump last tested negative before being infected?

"Let's talk about testing because there's little bit of confusion about this and we can clear it up," Guthrie said.

"Your first positive test was Thursday, Oct. 1, okay? When was your last negative test? When did you last remember having a negative test?" she asked.

The White House and the president's doctors have repeatedly decline to answer this question since Trump got sick, though they have offered shifting explanations as to why.

Trump attended several public events before announcing his infection and, without confirming when he last tested negative, his aides have not dispelled the possibility he was contagious when he attended the first presidential debate or an earlier White House reception for the families of slain service-members.

So Guthrie asked Trump, 74, directly: Had he tested negative at the first debate, on Sept. 29?

"It was afterwards. I don't know, I don't even remember," Trump said, insisting that "I test all the time."

"But I can tell you this: After the debate, like I guess a day or so, I think it was Thursday evening, maybe even late Thursday evening, I tested positive," he said. "That's when I first found out about it."

Trump's coronavirus diagnosis was the first topic in the sit-down, which he scheduled with NBC after balking at the second debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Organizers had said the second debate would be virtual out of health concerns, after Trump was infected, but he said he would not do a remote debate.

(After Trump declined, Biden scheduled an ABC town hall which aired at the same time as Trump on NBC.)

Trump told Guthrie, 48, he wasn't sure he was tested at all on the first debate day, despite debate organizers saying that all attendees would have to test negative.

He also disputed the idea that he was tested every day. Rather, he said, he was tested "all the time." But after Guthrie asked, he said it wasn't daily and that he wasn't sure if he was tested on the day of the debate.

Guthrie asked: That day?

"Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t," the president replied.

Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos at a town hall
| Credit: JIM WATSON/Getty Images

While Trump discussed his coronavirus infection, Guthrie asked him about what he experienced when he was sick: "How severe were your symptoms — in particular did you have pneumonia?"

While he was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for three days, his doctors declined to say whether he had lung damage or pneumonia from the virus.

He told Guthrie on Thursday that his doctors said his lungs were "a little bit different, a little bit perhaps infected," but he said he didn't know with what: "I don’t know, I didn’t do too much asking."

She asked if he had had pneumonia and he said no.

"I didn’t have much of a problem with the lungs," he said. "I did have a little bit of a temperature."

Trump's medical team has also said that in addition to fever, he had two drops in his oxygen level requiring supplemental oxygen, but that they were not serious episodes.

The president's back-and-forth with Guthrie about his infection kicked off a sometimes contentious town hall as Guthrie, a Today show anchor, repeatedly pressed Trump on his false or misleading answers and followed up with questions, sometimes interrupting him.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S., has become one of the — if not the most — defining issues of the presidential election.

Trump has repeatedly downplayed its severity in public, even as he acknowledged it was more dangerous in private, and he has openly waffled on recommending basic health guidelines such as wearing a mask and social distancing.

When asked about masks at Thursday's town hall, he told Guthrie he was "I'm okay with masks" but went on to insist, incorrectly, that "85 percent of the people that wear masks catch it [the virus]."

Since he returned from the hospital, he has also urged other Americans not to be afraid of the virus or let it "dominate" them. He said at the town hall that he supported people being safe and smart.

President Donald Trump (right) answers a question from a voter at an NBC News town hall
| Credit: CNBC

Trump's NBC town hall had stirred some controversy before it aired because critics, including former NBC executives and talent, said it was benefitting Trump after he declined to participate in the next debate.

At a campaign event earlier on Thursday, Trump said he expected to be challenged and criticized at the NBC town hall — in contrast, he said, to a previous town hall Biden did with the network where Biden got gentle questioning.

Nonetheless, he said at his rally, "I figured, what the hell, we get a free hour of television."

"And we have Savannah Guthrie," Trump said, voice turning sarcastic. "She's always lovely, isn't she? But I figure why not."