President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that he may have become infected with the coronavirus at a White House event honoring Gold Star families — but a veterans' group involved in the event said none of the relatives of fallen service members who attended have become sick.
In an interview with Fox Business, Trump said he contracted Covid-19 because "I meet a lot of people."
"Sometimes, I'd be with groups, for instance, of Gold Star families. I met with Gold Star families," he told Maria Bartiromo, referring to people whose family members have been killed at war.
"I went through like 35 people," he continued. They were “telling the story of their son who just died or daughter or husband, who just died in a war or recently died … They come within an inch of my face sometimes. They want to hug me and they want to kiss me. And they do. And frankly, I'm not telling them to back up. I'm not doing it. But I did say it's obviously dangerous. It's a dangerous thing, if you go by the Covid thing,” he said.
Trump was referring to a Sept. 27 event that was held indoors at the White House.
Trump's pointing to the military family event comes amid public speculation about the source of the White House outbreak, compounded by the official refusals to conduct contact tracing that may determine the introduction of the infection.
Some guests at the military family event, including Adm. Charles Ray, the vice commandant of the Coast Guard, later tested positive for coronavirus. Pictures of the event on social media show few masks were worn and there was little social distancing.
Several other White House officials got sick after attending another event a day earlier, when Trump announced Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. That event was held outside, but there were few masks and no social distancing, and a reception for Barrett that was held inside the White House.
Trump acknowledged the Barrett ceremony might have helped spread the virus around the White House. "Somebody got in. People got infected, whether there or elsewhere," he said.
In a statement to NBC News on Thursday, the Greatest Generations Foundation, a veterans charity organization involved in organizing the Gold Star event, said all attendees tested negative before the ceremony and all are “doing well and exhibit no symptoms of COVID-19.”
The organization confirmed that it has been in “daily” contact with the White House Office of Public Liaison during the outbreak.
The foundation's president, Timothy Davis. told The Daily Beast that the White House reached out to them Oct. 2 — the day the White House said the president tested positive for the virus — to warn "there was a potential our attendees were exposed.”
VoteVets, a veterans' group that's been highly critical of Trump, tweeted that the "White House didn't follow CDC guidelines with this event, and still isn't being straight with families, or doing real contact tracing through the CDC to put their minds at ease."
"Worse, Trump has speculated, without any evidence, that the families gave the virus to him. This is beyond the pale" and "just the latest example of Donald Trump disrespecting Gold Star families," the group said.
White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah told reporters Trump was not blaming the Gold Star family members.
"We by no means are blaming anyone who was present, and we did take a lot of precautions for that event so based on contact tracing and the data we have, we don't think it arose from that event," Farah said, adding that the president's "point was merely that in the time frame that he was potentially exposed, there were a number of different venues that he'd been at and individuals he'd interacted with that it could have come from." Farah said.
Another White House rep, deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern, told NBC the president "will always stand with military families and honor their sacrifices to our nation. We must reopen our country in a safe way, and the White House will continue to carry out critical duties, such as honoring Gold Star families, while taking appropriate precautions."
Before news of his own positive test became public last week, Trump told Fox News that he suspected Hope Hicks, a top aide who'd tested positive for the virus, had become infected by a member of the military.
"It’s very, very hard when you are with people from the military or from law enforcement and they come over to you, they want to hug you and they want to kiss you, because we really have done a good job for them. And you get close, and things happen," he said of Hicks.