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Trump was COVID-panicked in calls to Gavin Newsom, other governors, trashed 'bonkers' Sean Hannity, book says

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At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, former President Donald Trump made his feelings known that he did not want a coronavirus-infested cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco to come to shore.

“I like the [nation’s case] numbers being where they are,” he said in a Fox News interview. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

According to “This Will Not Pass,” an upcoming book from New York Times political correspondents Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, Trump had earlier called California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the middle of the night complaining about the cruise ship possibly being allowed to dock.

“If we bring them ashore, Trump complained to Newsom, that could increase the total number of coronavirus cases in the country,” Martin and Burns write in a passage reviewed by SFGATE.

Newsom spoke with Martin and Burns for the book and recalled needing to talk Trump down at 4:30 a.m. California time, which is three hours behind Washington, D.C.

“The president was not a student of policy, Newsom knew, and sometimes he just sort of said stuff,” Martin and Burns write. “You had to wait him out and then ask for what you wanted — which in this case, Newsom told him, was federal cooperation with bringing the boat into dock and processing the passengers for medical treatment or quarantine.”

The ship in question — the Grand Princess — was ultimately allowed to dock. Passengers and crew were removed from the ship and transferred to locations including Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield for quarantines.

The book details Trump’s other calls with governors in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as his highly transactional approach to the presidency. Martin and Burns report that governors found that “Trump was most interested in helping people he got along with, and regions of the country he saw as Trump country.”

According to the book, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy went on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in an attempt to communicate with Trump. (Newsom was unique among governors in having an “easy cell-phone relationship with the president,” Martin and Burns write.)

In that April 15, 2020, interview — which is around the time American conservatives really began to sour on lockdowns — Murphy defended his state’s stringent rules to Carlson and apparently got a call from Trump afterward.

“Trump had seen the interview and wanted Murphy to know he agreed with him,” Martin and Burns write. “The Fox guys, he said, were bonkers about the pandemic — [Sean] Hannity especially, Trump said.”

Murphy told Martin and Burns that Trump said Hannity was obsessed with “the Swedish model” of public health and said of the Fox News host, “Listen, he’s wrong.”

“The Swedish model” is a reference to Sweden never entering a lockdown in response to the pandemic. Onlookers are still debating whether the approach was a success.

Not long after Trump’s reported call with Murphy, the president fired off a series of tweets calling for other blue states to be “LIBERATE[D],” leaving governors confused. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz told Martin and Burns he asked Trump what exactly the president wanted but never got a firm answer.

Then, on April 22, 2020, Trump voiced his disagreement with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s plans to reopen certain sectors of his state’s economy, stating, “I think it’s too soon.” The book states that the public rebuke came because Trump sought to make Kemp “pay a price for his disobedience” on earlier calls during which Trump and aides, influenced by former adviser Dr. Deborah Birx, asked him to slow the pace of reopening. According to Martin and Burns, Trump put White House aides Brian Jack and Kayleigh McEnany in charge of getting Kemp to stand down, but neither was successful. 

Trump is currently working to topple Kemp in Georgia’s 2022 gubernatorial primary (mainly over Kemp’s refusal to decertify his state’s election results), though that venture does not appear to be going well for the former president.

The book releases on May 3 and covers the end of the Trump presidency and the first few months of the Biden presidency.