President Donald Trump and Sen. Ron Johnson at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, January 14, 2020.
Former President Donald Trump and Sen. Ron Johnson at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, January 14, 2020. Johnson held up progress on Trump's 2017 tax bill until it included a provision that benefited pass-through companies like the one he owned at the time. (Image via Shutterstock)

President may have known his diagnosis while still planning WI rallies. Senator attended Ozaukee Co. event Friday night.

An already complex effort by Americans to do contact tracing on a COVID-19-positive President Donald Trump was made more difficult Saturday when doctors revealed a timeline vastly different than what the White House was saying about the president’s knowledge of being positive for COVID-19. 

The confusion over the president’s diagnosis came as Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson disclosed that he is also infected with the coronavirus. Trump and Johnson are among many Republicans facing questions about whether they knowingly took part in events and possibly exposed others to the virus when they should have been in self-isolation as a precaution.

The shifting timeline for the president likely means Trump had still been intending to fly to Wisconsin for two rallies on Saturday, bringing himself and other COVID-exposed White House staffers to what is currently the center of the nation’s most widespread coronavirus outbreak.

“This means the president was still planning to hold massive rallies in Wisconsin after knowing he had tested positive?” Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said on his Twitter account. “I care about his health; does he care about yours?”

Trump may have also known his diagnosis prior to flying to a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday, and he likely knew the next day that his close aide Hope Hicks had contracted COVID-19 even as he kept his plans to visit his New Jersey country club for a fundraiser that featured a buffet lunch for donors.

The president’s planned visits to Green Bay and Janesville were canceled Friday sometime after Trump’s 1 a.m. tweet confirming he had contracted COVID-19. He later flew to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he is expected to stay several days for tests and treatment.

But Trump may have known his diagnosis earlier than first disclosed. During a Saturday morning news conference with several members of the medical team, Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s physician, said Trump was “72 hours into the diagnosis,” which could indicate the president knew on Wednesday. 

Conley later issued a statement saying he misspoke. But the statement itself had mistakes related to which doctor spoke about the timeline and on the spelling of an antibody treatment.

If the president knew his diagnosis as early as Wednesday, it would mean he received the news prior to traveling to a Minnesota fundraiser at a donor’s home. Hicks took ill on Air Force One as it returned to Washington. She was diagnosed on Thursday with COVID-19. 

A Wednesday diagnosis would also raise concerns of why the White House did not notify the campaign of Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who shared a stage with the president for a nationally-televised debate the night before. Trump arrived at the debate venue too late to take what was supposed to be a required COVID-19 test. Members of Trump’s family were conspicuous in refusing requests to wear masks while in the debate audience.

Johnson and State Legislator Announce COVID-19 Cases

Sen. Johnson’s statement on Saturday announcing his COVID-19 diagnosis said he was showing no symptoms and would remain in isolation.

Briana Reilly of the Capital Times reports Johnson said he was tested prior to attending the Ozaukee County Republican Party Oktoberfest Dinner on Friday night at the River Club of Mequon. 

Johnson dismissed any notion that he should not have attended the event while awaiting test results, even knowing he had been in proximity with another Senator who later tested positive.

“I’m not sick,” he said in the report. “I have no symptoms. I certainly didn’t anticipate testing positive, so there was no reason to quarantine.” 

Johnson also said he remains opposed to face mask requirements, saying the safeguards are not a “cure-all,” and relying on “individual responsibility” to fight the global pandemic.

The event was also attended by Congressman Glenn Grothman, state Sen. Duey Strobel, Assembly Reps. Jim Ott and Dan Knodl, and former state Attorney General Brad Schimel, now a circuit court judge in Waukesha County.

Pat Poblete of WisPolitics reports Strobel said he left before Johnson arrived, and Ott said he will self-isolate as a precaution.

The Waukesha Freeman was told by Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) that he has tested positive for COVID-19, and reports that Allen’s Democratic opponent, Aaron Perry, is getting tested after experiencing symptoms. The report said Perry has been quarantining with his son, who was sent home from school due to a positive COVID-19 test in his third-grade section.

Johnson is the third Republican Senator to test positive for COVID-19 this week. 

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said Saturday she remains free of the virus. “Given the outbreak in the Senate, I was tested on Friday and I am pleased to report that my result was negative,” she tweeted

Other Republicans Face Questions

Two of Johnson’s GOP Senate colleagues, Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, also announced testing positive for COVID-19. 

Tillis and Lee were among hundreds who attended a White House ceremony announcing Amy Coney Barett’s nomination for the US Supreme Court one week ago. Guests mingled, hugged and kissed on the cheek, most without wearing masks. An indoor reception followed the outdoor ceremony.

Seven days later, at least eight people who attended the ceremony have tested positive for the coronavirus, including the president. Several more of the president’s closest aides and advisers have also tested positive. 

Also, three Republican congressmen from Minnesota are facing criticism for taking a commercial flight home from Washington just two days after they were on Air Force One with President Donald Trump.

Reps. Pete Stauber, Tom Emmer and Jim Hagedorn were on a Delta Air Lines flight Friday night despite its restrictions on passengers recently exposed to COVID-19. Trump announced early Friday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Delta’s policy says customers who know they were exposed to the virus in the past 14 days cannot travel. 

Sen. Johnson was not at the Rose Garden event, but told the Associated Press, “I need to stay healthy so I can provide a vote to confirm Amy Barrett.”

Senate Paused, Except for Barrett Nomination Hearing

Senate Republicans have canceled legislative work until Oct. 19 as the coronavirus sweeps through their ranks and lawmakers increasingly call for comprehensive testing on Capitol Hill. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said in a statement Saturday that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett are still scheduled for Oct. 12.

The announcement was blasted by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York).

“If it’s too dangerous to have the Senate in session, it is also too dangerous for committee hearings to continue,” he said in a statement. “Leader McConnell’s monomaniacal drive to confirm Judge Barrett at all costs needlessly threatens the health and safety of Senators, staff, and all those who work in the Capitol complex.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.