Sean Conley, Trump’s White House doctor, faces a new review of the Covid testing schedule

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While Trump denied having Covid ahead of the initial debate, the positive result sparked attending a reception on the 26th – which Trump met at the White House while sticking to a busy schedule.

Art Caplan, a bioethicist and director of the medical ethics department at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, told CNN that Conley, as Trump’s doctor, has a duty to his patient, which means that without the president’s permission he has no duty Would pass on information. “That leaves the public in the dark in many ways about serious problems that may arise,” he said.

But even as a doctor, Conley had a duty to warn, Caplan argued, when his patient might have endangered others.

“Every doctor has an ethical obligation to ensure that his patient does not harm others,” he said. “So if you knew Trump was positive and you knew he was going to an event exposed and you knew that vulnerable people will be there … I would argue that you have a duty to speak up and notify them.” “

Caplan added, “It is probably the last thing you will ever do as a doctor in the White House if you do, but nonetheless you have a duty to protect people from harm and it is absolutely dangerous to expose people to Covid, and so do you.” I think you have to break the presumption of privacy. “

Conley, a Navy commander who was Trump’s doctor from 2018 to 2021, isn’t the only doctor in the White House undergoing scrutiny. Former White House doctor who became Republican Congressman Ronny Jackson of Texas was criticized this week for making the false assumption that the new Covid-19 Omicron variant was a Democratic-made “midterm variant”, so that they could get “unsolicited national postal ballot papers” through “next year’s elections.

Jackson was Conley’s predecessor in the White House Medical Office, where he convened an extraordinary press conference in which Trump described “excellent health” after his physical exam in 2018 despite signs of heart disease and borderline obesity. Later, after Trump named Jackson Secretary for Veterans Affairs, allegations of wrongdoing surfaced, including alcohol in the workplace. A later inspector general for the Department of Defense earlier this year offered a scathing assessment of Jackson’s conduct as a doctor in the White House.

Both Conley and Jackson served as White House doctors. But they responded to the White House – not the Pentagon – in their role as White House military officials.

When Jackson was examined by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense for his conduct as a White House doctor, it was the result of the Inspector General receiving specific complaints about him. So far there is no evidence of complaints against Conley.

A Navy official referred CNN to the White House when asked to comment on Conley. Conley did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The doctor’s job in the White House is unique; While they oversee a team of doctors and nurses who look after the administrative staff, their main role is to oversee the health of a single patient: the president. A White House doctor travels everywhere the president goes, often closely followed by a medical bag. They ensure there is one pints of President-type blood on board the Air Force in the event of an emergency and conduct annual checkups at Walter Reed National Medical Center.

The proximity can create a relationship that goes beyond the typical patient-doctor dynamic. Biden, who Conley received after taking office from Dr. Having replaced Kevin O’Connor as his doctor, asked O’Connor to join him when he met Pope Francis at the Vatican in October.

It is not uncommon for a president to name his own doctor when he takes office, although Biden’s two youngest predecessors each retained the incumbent doctor who looked after the men who had served before them.

“violated his duty”

Shielding a president’s health problems is nothing new. But the questions surrounding the behavior of Trump’s doctors in the White House underscore how the past administration’s willingness to mislead – and to lie openly – often permeated every corner of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The decision to keep Trump’s first positive test a secret was condemned by at least one former White House employee, Alyssa Farah.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday that Conley “violated his duty” for failing to isolate Trump.

“If I were the doctor in the White House and were told, ‘Don’t say anything,’ I would resign,” said Reiner.

According to the Guardian, Conley Meadows called on the night of September 26 when Trump was on his way to a rally in Pennsylvania and told him Trump had tested positive. Meadows wrote that Conley had told him, “Stop the president from leaving. He just tested positive for Covid,” the excerpt reads.

Trump was then retested and received a negative result. Meadows wrote that Trump took the negative test as “full permission to continue as if nothing had happened”.

“I didn’t want to take unnecessary risks,” Meadows wrote, according to The Guardian, “but I also didn’t want to alarm the public when there was nothing to worry about.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Trump said: “In fact, a test showed that I had no Covid before the debate.”

Trump announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for Covid-19 early October 2, and he was hospitalized later that day. In the days between Trump’s first positive test and his publicly announced positive result on October 1, Trump held events at the White House, including a White House reception for Gold Star families. He also participated in the first debate with Biden on September 29th in Cleveland, where he was late to be tested. And he held a rally in Minnesota the day after the debate.

A rosy assessment

After Trump was hospitalized on October 2, Conley faced a wave of questions about the president’s condition. He came under fire for making an optimistic diagnosis while Meadows had made a more alarming assessment of Trump’s health.

Conley has also been criticized for failing to reveal that the president was being given oxygen, which he said because he wanted “to reflect the team’s optimistic attitude”.

Later reports have revealed that Trump was sicker than was announced at the time.

Conley explained the reason for his rosy assessment at the time: “I tried to reflect the optimistic attitude of the team, the president, of his disease progression in a different direction, and it turned out that we were trying to hide something.”

During his briefings, Conley was urged by reporters as to when the president last received a negative Covid-19 test. He wouldn’t answer.

“I won’t come back to all of the tests, but he and all staff are routinely tested,” Conley said on October 3rd.

“I don’t want to go backwards,” he said on October 5th when asked again when Trump last tested negative.

The long history of secrecy

Trump’s Covid diagnosis wasn’t the first time a president’s health had been scrutinized – and shielded by the White House.

Trump's former press secretary describes his mysterious hospital visit in 2019 in a look behind the scenes at his White House

Timothy Naftali, a CNN presidential historian and professor at New York University, wrote after Trump’s diagnosis last year about how often the president’s health problems are kept secret. He explained how 100 years earlier White House doctors had covered up President Woodrow Wilson’s flu attack and minor stroke he suffered in 1919 from the public too – even though they were not communicable diseases that could be transmitted to those around them.

“The president’s health is treated as both a national security secret and a privacy issue for the president,” said Naftali. “And when presidents are seriously ill, the wall of secrecy is even thicker.”

In the nuclear age, Naftali said, health problems were often played down or withheld for reasons of national security, arguing that US opponents shouldn’t know that the commander-in-chief was in a weakened condition. But Naftali argued that once a president leaves office, records of a president’s health, which are now often kept private, should be made available to the public.

Under the Presidential Records Act, an outgoing president can restrict access to medical records for 12 years, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“At some point, that national security argument disappears, which is why we should know everything about President Trump’s fight against Covid,” he said. “There is no national safety reason – which could be said to have existed in the fall of 2020 – not knowing exactly at this point when it tested positive.”

CNN’s Barbara Starr and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.


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