RPCV Peter Navarro (Thailand) warned Trump of pandemic
Trade Adviser Warned White House in January of Risks of a Pandemic
A memo from Peter Navarro (Thailand 1972-75) said failure to contain a coronavirus outbreak could lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars in economic losses. It is the most direct warning known to have circulated at a key moment among top administration officials.
By Maggie Haberman
Published April 6, 2020 New York Times
Updated April 7, 2020, 12:46 a.m. ET
A top White House adviser starkly warned Trump administration officials in late January that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.
The warning, written in a memo by Peter Navarro, President Trump’s trade adviser, is the highest-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing as the administration was taking its first substantive steps to confront a crisis that had already consumed China’s leaders and would go on to upend life in Europe and the United States.
“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” Mr. Navarro’s memo said. “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”
Dated Jan. 29, it came during a period when Mr. Trump was playing down the risks to the United States, and he would later go on to say that no one could have predicted such a devastating outcome.
Mr. Navarro said in the memo that the administration faced a choice about how aggressive to be in containing an outbreak, saying the human and economic costs would be relatively low if it turned out to be a problem along the lines of a seasonal flu.
But he went on to emphasize that the “risk of a worst-case pandemic scenario should not be overlooked” given the information coming from China.
In one worst-case scenario cited in the memo, more than a half-million Americans could die.
A second memo that Mr. Navarro wrote, dated Feb. 23, warned of an “increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1.2 million souls.”
At that time, Mr. Trump was still downplaying the threat of the virus. The administration was considering asking Congress for more money to address the situation, and the second memo, which circulated around the West Wing and was obtained by The Times, urged an immediate supplemental spending appropriation from Congress of at least $3 billion.
“This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill,” Mr. Navarro wrote in the second memo, which was unsigned but which officials attributed to him. It was unclear whether Mr. Trump saw the second memo, whose contents were first reported by Axios.
The second memo seemed aimed at members of the White House Task Force established by Mr. Trump to manage the crisis, and reflected deep divisions within the administration about how to proceed and persistent feuding between Mr. Navarro and many other top officials about his role and his views.
“Any member of the Task Force who wants to be cautious about appropriating funds for a crisis that could inflict trillions of dollars in economic damage and take millions of lives has come to the wrong administration,” the memo said.
Among other things, the memo called for an increase funding for the government to purchase personal protective equipment for health care workers, estimating they would need “at least a billion face masks” over a four-to-six-month period.
The administration ended up asking for $2.5 billion. Congress then approved $8 billion.
Mr. Navarro is now the administration’s point person for supply chain issues for medical and other equipment needed to deal with the virus.
The January memo written by Mr. Navarro was dated the same day that Mr. Trump named the task force to deal with the threat, and as the administration was weighing whether to bar some travelers from China, an option being pushed by Mr. Navarro.
Mr. Trump would approve the limits on travel from China the next day, though it would be weeks before he began taking more aggressive steps to head off spread of the virus.
Questions about Mr. Trump’s handling of the crisis, especially in its early days when he suggested it was being used by Democrats to undercut his re-election prospects, are likely to define his presidency. Mr. Navarro’s memo is evidence that some in the upper ranks of the administration had at least considered the possibility of the outbreak turning into something far more serious than Mr. Trump was acknowledging publicly at the time.
Neither Mr. Navarro nor spokespeople for the White House responded to requests for comment.
The memo, which was reviewed by The New York Times, was sent from Mr. Navarro to the National Security Council and then distributed to several officials across the administration, people familiar with the events said. It reached a number of top officials as well as aides to Mick Mulvaney, then the acting chief of staff, they said, but it was unclear whether Mr. Trump saw it.
Mr. Navarro is a well-established China hawk who has long been mistrustful of the country’s government and trade practices. Both Mr. Navarro and Matthew Pottinger, the chief deputy at the National Security Council, were among the few officials urging colleagues in January to take a harder line in relation to the growing threat of the coronavirus.
But their warnings were seen by other officials as primarily reflecting their concerns about China’s behavior — and their concerns look more prescient in hindsight than they actually were, other officials argue.
With the subject line “Impose Travel Ban on China?” Mr. Navarro opened the memo by writing, “If the probability of a pandemic is greater than roughly 1%, a game-theoretic analysis of the coronavirus indicates the clear dominant strategy is an immediate travel ban on China.”
Mr. Navarro concluded at one point: “Regardless of whether the coronavirus proves to be a pandemic-level outbreak, there are certain costs associated with engaging in policies to contain and mitigate the spread of the disease. The most readily available option to contain the spread of the outbreak is to issue a travel ban to and from the source of the outbreak, namely, mainland China.”
He suggested that under an “aggressive” containment scenario, a travel ban may need to last as long as 12 months for proper containment, a duration of time that at that point some White House aides saw as unsustainable.
10 CommentsLeave a comment
Excellent warning, too bad it wasn’t heeded!
Peter Navarro’s Ph.D. Revealed to Be from Trump University
Where has Peter Navarro been for last 3 yrs in immigration, on environment, etc.? Sorry, for me, he is too little way, way too late.
I just read Peter Navarro’s bio on Wikipedia. It is fascinating. He has been all over the political map on issues, finally settling on the very conservative side. The one constant has been his fear/dislike of China. I do not understand his reactions.
His memo in January was right on. Yet, he smiles as Trump says constantly, “No one saw this coming.” He never contradicts Trump.
Yet, he picks a fight with Dr. Fauci over something of which Fauci is the expert. I don’t understand. Navarro claims to know statistics, but the bio suggests that his fellow economists do not share his own high opinion of his ability to “read statistics”.
Navarro must have taken chloroquine (Aralen) when he was with the Peace Corps. The drug can have serious side effects. It can cause photsensitizing which can increase risk of all kinds of skin cancer. It also can permanetly damage the retina. I have had the skin problem and have a tear in my retina which was not found for forty years after I took the drug and may or may not have been caused by the drug.
It is used in the treatment of lupus and rarely anymore against malaria because the malaria parasite has developed resistence to it. Lupus is a serious, sometimes fatal, auto-immune disease. Malaria is caused by a mosquito borne parasite. Neither is a virus. It may work, or it could absolutely really hurt some vulnerable people. I don’t understand why Fauci doesn’t mention these side effects. They are universally recognized by the medical profession.
I would love to know more about Navarro’s time in Thailand and if that has led to his absolute loathing and fear of China.
In his briefing today, Trump said he never seen the memo and not heard about it, until today. He said he still had not read it, but did plan to read it. He reiterated that his decision to close China was basically all the memo said and so Trump was right and he did not need to have read the memo.
As to why he continued to deny the possibility of the possibility of the pan epidemic, Trump said he had to be a cheerleader for the country and he did not want to alarm anyone.
Since I read this, I’ve been trying to figure out if the Peter who told me I needed to leave Thailand because I was “dragging everybody else” down in November of 1973 was Peter Navarro, I looked at his picture in the biography book for his group, and I’m still not sure. I didn’t even know the last name of the Peter I knew, but that Peter, like Peter Navarro, had graduated at Tufts before teaching TEFL for Peace Corps at the college level. I wrote about the Peter I knew in a chapter of my memoir I called “Begging me just to leave”, but, in the memoir, I called him Jeeter. In the very same chapter, I also wrote about my suspicions that there was a relationship between what Ambassador Leonard Unger was doing in Thailand and what was going on with the foreign affairs graduate program at Tufts which was considered to be an incubator for future intelligence people. Unger went back to Tufts about the same time I left Thailand. Peter Navarro’s photo and bio sketch can be found in the Group 43 Thailand Biography book which is posted in the Friends of Thailand digital archives website. According to what it says on the cover of the biography book, Group 43 trained in Thailand in March and April of 1973, but, according to everything else I found, including Peter Navarro’s curriculum vitae, he was already in Thailand with the Peace Corps in 1972.
The Peter I knew was very sure of himself, had good hair, and I imagine that women thought he was hot. I always wondered who he meant by “everybody else” when he said I was dragging everybody else down. Like I wondered who he represented besides himself. Putting it most positively, I guess he may have actually been looking out for other volunteers. He used to come to my province because the Air Base was in my province so we had a lot of bargirls, and I believed, at the time, that that was why he told me I had to leave. Of course, I didn’t have to leave just because of that, but I wondered why he did that. That Peter told me he played the guitar and sang for his students and that his future was “business”. So is this the same guy? I’d like to know, but this will probably remain as ambiguous to me as everything else that was going on back then
We were given pink pills for malaria and took them once a week. I’ve been taking 400 mg of hydrooxycholoroquine for rheumatoid arthritis for about three years. No bad affects, but I have to get a plaquinal screening every year to make sure it’s not affecting the retina of my eyes. So far, so good.
what I meant to say was “I believe that was why he was there the day he told me I had to leave.” Like he didn’t come to my province to tell me I had to leave. He just happened to see me when he was there on another mission..
Thank you, Jim. This is fascinating.
I just googled a couple more places and found a CV which said that Peter Navarro was with the Peace Corps from 73 to 76 which would jibe with the Peace Corps biography page. Another site said the same thing….73-76. So I don’t think he was actually in Thailand in 1972, and I doubt the 72-75 date for his Peace Corps service on other sites was based on any intention on his part to disguise what he might have been doing in 72. The school at Tufts incidentally is the Fletcher School of International Diplomacy, but the Peter I knew had been an undergraduate student at Tufts. He said he’d lived off-campus, by the ocean I think. He seemed like a pretty free spirit, and it’s hard for me to think of him as having become a political hack. Still, the reports that he’s very sure of his own opinions meshes with the Peter I knew.
One of my pet peeves was that the villagers, especially those who’d had any contact at all with the Air Base, thought I could get them surplus construction materials from the AirForce. I shared this with Peter one time, and he told me I had a bad attitude and that he was more than happy to help Thais who asked him to get them free stuff from the Air Base because, as he said, all of them were poorer than he was. So there I was trying to keep my distance from the Air Base, and trying to stay within the l Thai economy, and Peter was going to the Air Base to scrounge surplus construction materials for the Thais. And he wasn’t even a construction volunteer. He taught English. . If’s weird. I got excited to realize that forty-seven years ago I was dealing with this guy who’s in the news today. But I think he knew things I wished I’d known about the CIA in Sakhon Nakhon where he was stationed. The Americans all hung out at this restaurant which served American food which even a Peace Corps volunteer could afford. It became the clubhouse not only for Peace Corps volunteers but for American ex-patriots of every sort. The CIA was exposed in Sakhon Nakhon the very month after I left, and I learned just a couple years ago how big a deal this had been. And then, in 2017, I learned that the CIA had owned that restaurant and that their office was right across the street. So Peter probably knew some secrets, and he was also involved in my life, but only knew a snippet of who she was. . Also, I learned that he’s one of The best paid White House employees but that none of them earn more that $127,000. And some of the secretaries there make less than I made throwing mail. .
Navarro was not well prepared for his 60 Minutes interview. He appeared to be just another lap dog. My Peace Corps buddy, Jeff Benik, and I ate quite a few lap dogs in tacos during our service to La Ceiba, Honduras (like the members of the Corps of Discovery). That’s all lap dogs are good fer.