President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that he might have contracted Covid-19 from Gold Star family members who were too close to him when telling stories of their loved ones who died in the line of duty.
In an interview on Fox Business, Trump told host Maria Bartiromo that he “figured there would be a chance” he would become infected with the coronavirus, citing his meetings with the families of America’s war dead.
“Sometimes, I’d be in groups of, for instance, Gold Star families. I met with Gold Star families. I didn’t want to cancel that,” he said. “But they all came in, and they all talk about their son and daughter and father. And, you know, they all came up to me, and they tell me a story.”
The president proceeded to recount some of those interactions.
He said the family members would approach him to “tell me a story about, ‘My son, sir, was in Iraq.’ Or, ‘He was in Afghanistan.’ And, ‘Sir, he did this, and he did that, and then he charged in order to save his friends.’ And, ‘Yes, sir, he was killed, but he saved his friends. He’s so brave, sir.’”
Trump explained that as he was being told these stories about fallen soldiers, “I can’t say, ‘Back up, stand 10 feet,’ you know? I just can’t do it.”
At one event, Trump claimed to have “went through, like 35 people” whose family members had died, “and everyone had a different story.”
“I can’t back up, Maria, and say, ‘Give me room. I want room. Give me 12 feet. Stay 12 feet away when you talk,” he said.
The Gold Star family members “come within an inch of my face, sometimes,” Trump said. “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.”
It is not known where exactly Trump contracted Covid-19, and the White House has refused to provide a definitive timeline of the president’s coronavirus tests in the days leading up to his diagnosis.
Apart from the meetings the president described Thursday, he has held large-scale campaign rallies in recent months where attendees do not practice social-distancing and many of his supporters do not wear face masks.
Trump also presided over a packed, mostly mask-less White House Rose Garden ceremony last month where he nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
That ceremony, which was attended by numerous administration officials and members of Congress, has since been identified as a potential super-spreader event.
Trump’s remarks Thursday were most likely in reference to a White House event on Sept. 27 celebrating Gold Star families. Several high-ranking military leaders also attended the event.
One of them, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Charles Ray, tested positive Monday, prompting all but one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to self-quarantine this week after they met in a secure conference room at the Pentagon last Friday.
A second high-ranking officer who was at the Pentagon meeting, Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Gary Thomas, tested positive Wednesday.
None of the other military leaders who met with Ray on Friday have tested positive, and the Pentagon says they are able to do their jobs while quarantined.
The president previously floated a theory last Thursday that infected service members or law enforcement officers were potentially responsible for White House aide Hope Hicks testing positive for Covid-19.
Hicks’ diagnosis was the apparent first in a wave of infections that have consumed the White House, upended the presidential race and resulted in a new outbreak in the nation’s capital.
“She’s fantastic, and she’s done a great job,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity at the time.
“But it’s very, very hard when you are with people from the military or from law enforcement,” he said. “And they come over to you and they — 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.”
Dave Brown contributed to this report.