White House advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner gloated about the president taking back control of the country from “the doctors” at the same time New York City was drowning in COVID-19 cases, in a set of interviews with journalist Bob Woodward recorded in April and published by CNN.
On April 17, Trump held a White House coronavirus task force briefing in which he encouraged states to begin reopening as early as possible. This was also the same day he tweeted that supporters should “LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia from the lockdowns imposed by those states’ governors.
“I do believe that last night symbolized kind of the beginning of the comeback phase,” Kushner told Woodward in an interview taped the following day.
“That doesn’t mean there’s not still a lot of pain and there won’t be pain for a while, but that basically was, we’ve now put out rules to get back to work,” Kushner said. “Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors. We have, like, a negotiated settlement.”
Kushner also indicated that the White House viewed lifting or loosening lockdowns as an opportunity for a political victory. “It was almost like Trump getting the country back from the doctors. Right?" Kushner told Woodward on April 18. "In the sense that what he now did was, you know, he's going to own the open-up."
At the time, nearly 13,000 people had already died as a result of COVID-19 in New York, then the global epicenter of the crisis. Six months later, the United States is now fully locked into the third wave of the coronavirus, with an average of more than 75,000 new cases per day over the past week, according to the New York Times. More than 227,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease who has clashed with White House officials including the president, told CNBC on Wednesday that there was a clear turn away from public health and back toward reopening.
“It was clear that some months ago there was a pivot away from completely focusing on public health issues to looking at opening up the country with regard to the economy,” Fauci said. “That was very clear, and it was stated that way.” Fauci said last week that Trump hasn’t attended a task force meeting in “several months.”
In an interview on May 8, Kushner promoted Trump as a “cheerleader” whose positive energy could manipulate “the psychology of the market,” and that making preparations for COVID-19 to still be around in the fall was a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“If you basically say this is coming back in the fall, don’t gear up, then people won’t rehire, people will stay unemployed,” Kushner said. “And if you’re planning for the worst-case scenario, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of the things that the president’s great at is he’s a cheerleader. He’s trying to make people feel good about the outcome.”
Incredibly, Kushner—a man who had never worked anywhere near government until his father-in-law hired him as a senior aide—said that the biggest problem in the White House is “overconfident idiots,” and suggested Trump is gullible and easily fooled by confidence.
“The most dangerous people around the president are over-confident idiots. Right?” Kushner told Woodward on April 18. “Because that has a way, sometimes, of getting past his defense mechanism because if you’re overconfident, then sometimes, you know, on a topic where he doesn’t have other people around to kind of validate it, then he can sometimes say, ‘okay, let’s go with that.”’
Woodward reportedly wrote that he believed Kushner was referring to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, and former Defense Secretary James Mattis. Presumably Kushner was not referring to himself.
“I think if you look at the evolution over time,” Kushner added, “We’ve gotten rid of a lot of the over-confident idiots, and now he’s got a lot more thoughtful people who kind of know their place and know what to do.”