China announced on December 31, 2019, that it had detected an outbreak of a new, and deadly respiratory disease focused in the city of Wuhan. Although Chinese authorities reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization, they did not identify that the cause was a novel coronavirus. Two days prior, while on the golf course in Florida, Donald Trump received a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The White House did not release any information about that phone call, nor even initially acknowledge that it had happened, but the Kremlin did post a “readout,” saying only that Putin had thanked Trump for United States assistance with a terrorism case, and that the two “discussed a range of issues of mutual interest.”
But on Friday, the author of two New York Times bestsellers about Trump suggested that at least part of that conversation may have concerned the coronavirus outbreak.
“Russia borders China, has a special relationship with China, has excellent sources in China,” wrote author Seth Abramson on his Twitter account. “When will we learn if Trump and Putin discussed coronavirus?”
The Russian-Chinese border is about 2,600 miles long, approximately 700 miles longer than the U.S.-Mexico border.
Though China did not inform The WHO that the coronavirus was behind the new respiratory disease, reporting by The South China Morning Post showed that the government already knew.
On December 27, a doctor from Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, Zhang Jixian, told China’s health authorities there that “the disease was caused by a new coronavirus,” according to the Morning Post report.
Two days later, Putin called Trump.
According to a Washington Post report published on Friday, United States intelligence agencies began briefing members of the Trump administration on the growing pandemic in China, and the danger that it could spread globally including to the United States, in January.
But according to what one government official told The Post, though Trump’s advisers attempted to sound the alarm to Trump about the pending crisis, “they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it.”
“Trump has often taken Putin’s advice over advice from US intelligence,” Abramson noted on his Twitter account, adding that no one other than Trump and Putin is known to have listened in on the December 29 call.
“It’s time we know if coronavirus was discussed and if Putin advised Trump,” Abramson wrote.
Abramson’s claim that Trump has taken Putin’s word over that of U.S. intelligence agencies has been supported by earlier reporting. According to one MSNBC report, Trump accepted Putin’s assertion that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 elections, dismissing U.S. intelligence assessments to the contrary.
He also canceled joint military exercises with South Korea on Putin’s suggestion, according to the MSNBC report, and dismissed intelligence findings on the range of North Korean ballistic missiles after Putin contradicted them.