NJ investigating if ‘reckless’ Trump fundraiser broke COVID rules, Murphy says
Gov. Phil Murphy says President Donald Trump's fundraiser in Bedminster Thursday — which violated CDC guidance about isolation after close contact with a coronavirus patient — may have also broken New Jersey's rules put in place to limit gatherings in the pandemic.
The state's Office of the Attorney General was investigating, Murphy said Monday at his regular coronavirus media briefing.
"It is clear that the president and his staff acted recklessly in coming to New Jersey in the first place," Murphy said. The White House has confirmed Trump and senior staffers knew aide Hope Hicks was positive for the coronavirus before leaving for the Bedminster event, attended by hundreds of supporters, and that Hicks had been in close contact with the president over the previous week.
The president tested positive for the virus himself after returning from the trip, White House officials and the president's doctor have said. They haven't said when he last had a negative test, and his doctor said in a press briefing there were "clinical indications that (caused) a little bit more concern" Thursday afternoon, but didn't give an exact timetable.
Murphy said it's "not the first time we've seen that absence of leadership" — citing the president's at-times dismissive statements about masks (though he said in last week's presidential debate he wears one when he finds it necessary, while mocking challenger Joe Biden for wearing them even when distanced).
But what's more, Murphy said, the OAG is looking into reports the gathering may have violated New Jersey's restrictions, first put in place by executive order after the pandemic hit the Garden State in May. There may have been more people indoors than allowed under New Jersey rules, and the event may have violated a prohibition on buffet-style food service, Murphy said.
"The actions leading up to and during this event have put lives at risk," Murphy said.
He declined to say what specific enforcement action might be taken against the Trump campaign or against Trump's Bedminster golf club, where the event was held. He said that would be a matter for the attorney general and for the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office to handle.
Murphy stressed he didn't yet have confirmation of potential violations — but noted the visit itself violated CDC guidance that calls for two weeks of isolation after a close contact with someone who has the coronavirus, even after personally testing negative or showing no symptoms. It can take several days for the incubating virus to build up enough in an individual's system to register on a test.
"We're crystal clear on one thing. If you've been exposed to someone who's been COVID-positive, you have to quarantine. You have to take yourself off the field," Murphy said.
Each day since the president's diagnosis, reports have come out about more people in his orbit testing positive. Among them is former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who helped the president with debate prep in a room where Christie says no one wore masks. New Jersey native Kellyanne Conway, who recently stepped down as a top Trump adviser, has tested positive, as has her teen daughter — the latter of whom has used social media to blame the Trump administration for practices she said let the virus spread to her family.
Several members of the Trump administration have still been seen publicly, sometimes without masks, in the days since his diagnosis, including White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who Monday announced her own positive test, which she said came after several earlier negative tests. Attorney General Bill Barr said Sunday he would isolate after initially declining to.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who debated Trump for 90 minutes last Tuesday, was scheduled Monday to travel to Florida. Though Biden was in the same room as Trump for an extended time, CDC guidelines define the "close contact" that should prompt isolation as being within 6 feet of a person who has coronavirus for at least 15 minutes. Biden's campaign has said he's been tested multiple times a day since the debate.
Tracing the Bedminster impact
Murphy said Monday state officials had been given a name of 206 attendees by the Republican National Committee, and had reached 184 by email. No phone numbers were provided, Murphy has said. He called the reception "mixed."
Some of those reached were "extremely positive" and some were "not so positive," state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. Many asked where New Jersey got their name, Murphy said.
"The Republican National Committee, for anyone watching, is where we got your name," Murphy said.
State officials have also been in touch with about 19 golf course staffers. Answering a reporter's question about the potential threat to communities of color — disproportionately represented among food service workers — Murphy said he shared that concern but didn't have information on the demographics of those on the staff.
Murphy said so far, the state doesn't know of any transmission linked to the event, but stressed it's likely too early for positive test results. Those could start to manifest over the next few days, if there was any spread.
Attendees speaking to media this weekend said they were not told of the president's exposure during or before the event. ABC this weekend spoke to several attendees of the fundraiser who said they are now quarantining and getting coronavirus tests.
The CNN report cited other sources saying attendees were tested for coronavirus, but that most people did not wear masks.
The ABC report said the Trump campaign and attendees alike describe the president as at safe distance from attendees throughout the fundraiser, and only having brief contacts with most there. The ABC report quoted attendees saying that when Trump posed for photos with some attendees, event staff, campaign staff and Secret Service members all wore masks.
Accounts from attendees
(The following reports are by the Associated Press)
Dallas businessman Daniel Hux, who attended the event, said he was feeling fine Sunday, and had just undergone another test, as he and other donors had before the fundraiser.
“I’m grateful our president engaged his supporters safely while at the event,” Hux said in a statement. ”My prayers are with our president and the first lady."
Hux, who owns a mortgage company, declined to say where he had traveled in the interim. He said he was never within 6 feet of the president, but was quarantining just in case.
Dr. Rich Roberts, a pharmaceutical executive from New Jersey who made a video describing the event, said he sat a seat away from Trump during an indoor roundtable event, which he said involved about 19 people and lasted perhaps 45 minutes or more. Roberts did not return messages Sunday from The Associated Press about the video, which was posted on The Lakewood (New Jersey) Scoop.
Charlie Kolean, also from Dallas, said the coronavirus test he took upon returning home from New Jersey came back negative Sunday. He’ll take another one in a few days.
Kolean, who works in investments, said from what he noticed at the event, Trump campaign members were all masked and socially distant, as were Bedminster staff, who also wore gloves.
During the photo opportunity with the president, the 25-year-old said donors were required to stand 6 feet from the president, on a marker taped to the floor.
“I know there were rumors of him being lethargic or tired. That was not the case at all at this event. He was very high energy, happy to be there. I noticed no difference in his health from previous times I’ve seen him," Kolean said.
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