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President Trump and Dr. Scott Atlas

Screenshot from Fox News/ MediaMatters

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Donald Trump announced this week that Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, will serve as a new "adviser" to the president on COVID-19. Atlas, whose background is in diagnostic radiology, is not an expert in infectious disease but rather a pundit and frequent Fox guest who has been repeatedly wrong about the pandemic.

Atlas, who has appeared 20 times on Fox News since the end of April, predicted in March that there would only be 10,000 deaths from COVID in America, said in April that the pandemic "appears to be entering the containment phase," and claimed in May that "the curves have been flattened." More recently, he has taken to making unproven claims downplaying the risk of COVID-19 in considering whether to reopen schools for in-person learning.

But Fox News and other right-wing outlets have elevated his politically convenient though dubious commentary; and on August 12 he gave brief remarks during a White House press briefing after Trump asked him to come up to the podium.

Here is a noncomprehensive list of Atlas' false claims, incorrect predictions, and pro-Trump sycophancy that preceded his new role at the White House.

  • Atlas claimed in a March 16 tweet, "Virus infections typically have seasons. This is temporary."
  • In a March 26 op-ed in The Washington Times, Atlas wrote, "This virus could cause about 10,000 deaths in the United States overall."
  • In a March 26 "Hoover Virtual Policy Briefing," Atlas claimed, "All reasonable numbers point to the fact that our number of severe outcomes will be peaking around three weeks or so."
  • In an April 1 op-ed in The Hill, Atlas wrote that "Americans should not panic. The United States has the most advanced medical care in the world for situations like this."
  • As the national curve of daily deaths continued to rise, Atlas wrote in an April 13 op-ed in The Hill that "we now need to reenter normal life" and that "continuing full-population isolation and waiting for a vaccine would be doubling down and yielding to panic."
  • Atlas opened his April 22 op-ed in The Hill by declaring, "The tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be entering the containment phase."
  • In an April 26 appearance on Fox News' The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, Atlas told the host, "Young people under 18 have virtually no risk of serious illness or death, so it's logical to open most schools. It's logical to open most businesses."
  • Atlas claimed on the April 27 edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight, "It's actually good news that the virus spreads widely and without high risk to the vast majority of people … because that means we have a better chance of developing population immunity." The Mayo Clinic describes "major problems" with the idea that herd immunity can be achieved through natural infection as it is unknown to what extent an individual is immune to further infection after exposure. Also, according to the Mayo clinic, even if it was possible for herd immunity to be achieved this way, it "could also lead to serious complications and millions of deaths, especially among older people and those who have chronic conditions."
  • On the May 11 edition of Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum, Atlas referenced the social distancing measures and claimed that "the cure is bigger than the disease at this point." He also told the audience that "the curves have been flattened."
  • On the June 8 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Atlas falsely claimed "there is really no risk to young people" when it comes to COVID-19.
  • On the June 22 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, host Martha MacCallum mentioned to Atlas former Food and Drug Adminstration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb's claim that 25% of hospitalizations in Texas are among people aged 20 to 29. Atlas responded that he didn't believe the number, saying, "I question if those people who are positive for COVID-19 and being hospitalized for something else are classified as COVID-19 hospitalizations. That's a big difference."
  • On the June 29 edition of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight, Atlas falsely claimed young people "do not have a significant problem, they do not have the serious complications, they do not die" from COVID-19. (The data showed at the time of this appearance and continues to show that young people do in fact die or suffer serious complications from the virus.) He also said it's "fantastic news that we have a lot of cases," which common sense and real-time data show to be false.
  • On the July 6 edition of The Story with Martha MacCallum, Atlas repeated the falsehood that "it doesn't really matter how many cases, it only matters who gets the cases" because young people die at a lower rate than older people. But increased caseloads lead to an increased strain on the capacity of health systems and may spread the virus to people who are more vulnerable to serious complications from the disease, even if the vast majority of young people who make up the increased number of cases do not.
  • Atlas downplayed the potential risks that COVID-19 poses to people under 70 on the July 7 edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle, claiming, "The risk of this has been grossly overblown."
  • On the July 15 edition of America's Newsroom, Atlas falsely claimed, "It doesn't matter if children get the disease. ... The data shows that they do not significantly transmit to adults."
  • On the July 25 edition of Fox News' Watters World, Atlas uncritically shilled for the Trump's disastrous COVID-19 response, saying, "I think the president's briefings that were done this week were excellent, and I think it's obvious to everyone that there's a focus on the data, that they're closely monitoring the situation." He also falsely claimed that it's been "established" that " children are not significant spreaders," when in fact the science on this issue remains unsettled.

Correction (8/13/20): This post originally misidentified a July 15 appearance from Atlas as happening on The Story with Martha MacCallum. The appearance was on the July 15 edition of America's Newsroom.


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Keep reading... Show less

Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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