Trump Sure Wants to Keep What Happens at Walter Reed Under Wraps

One imagines that Donald Trump carries a stack of nondisclosure agreements around with him like

One imagines that Donald Trump carries a stack of nondisclosure agreements around with him like business cards, ready to hand one out whenever needed. Trump Organization employees, campaign and White House staff, women with whom he’s been intimate — he’s tried to silence them all with NDAs. With some notable exceptions, this has generally worked out for him in the past. So given the way NDAs have helped him obscure his shady business practices, corrupt politicking, and sordid personal life, perhaps it makes sense that he’d try to use confidentiality agreements to conceal another sensitive matter: his health.

NBC News on Thursday reported that Trump demanded that the doctors who cared for him during his mysterious Walter Reed visit last November sign NDAs before treating him — an unusual requirement that underscores the president’s caginess about his unannounced 2019 hospital visit and his health more broadly. Sources familiar with the November 16 trip to the hospital told the outlet that doctors and non-medical staff were asked to sign the agreements, and that two physicians who refused to sign were not allowed to treat the president.

That’s odd. Medical professionals are already required to keep patient information confidential. Unless a doctor had Trump’s permission, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) would bar them from sharing details about his health, as spokesman Judd Deere told NBC News. “Any physician caring for the President is bound by patient physician confidentiality guaranteed under HIPAA,” he said in a statement, “and I’m not going to comment on internal procedures beyond that.” So if his information is protected by HIPAA anyway, what’s with the NDAs? Another layer of security? Just a habit? Whatever the reason, it reflects the degree to which the president is guarded about his health, a matter that has taken on added significance since he revealed his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Clear and accurate information about his illness — including its timeline and severity — has been hard to come by. He and the White House have done their typical obfuscation. So, too, has his medical staff, led by Dr. Sean Conley, who has evaded specific questions about the president’s disease and treatment and been opaque or misleading in his statements. Meanwhile, the American people remain in the dark about the physical health of the man currently in charge of the nuclear codes.

That’s left us to piece together a picture of the president’s condition from what we do know, which is that he was hospitalized and that he received supplemental oxygen and experimental drugs, potentially signaling a more serious bout with the coronavirus than he and his aides have let on. (It was unclear from NBC News’s reporting if Trump required NDAs for last weekend’s stay at Walter Reed.) His hospitalization and treatment could have been a precaution, as his administration said, or it could have been because his condition was more precarious than he’d have you believe.

Knowing the truth about his current state is a matter of public importance. For the 74-year-old president, though, there is likely a lot to gain from shrouding that all in uncertainty. Though he routinely questions the physical and mental health of others, he has hardly seemed like a paragon of fitness. But just as keeping his financial records secret allows him to claim he’s a successful, above-board businessman, keeping his health information under wraps allows him to make exaggerated claims of superhuman vigor. Speaking Thursday morning to Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business, Trump claimed he’d gotten over coronavirus because he’s a “perfect physical specimen and…extremely young.” He was joking — but only kind of. “Seriously,” he said later. “I’m in good health.”

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