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Exclusive: White House ordered classified coronavirus meetings

Video credit: Reuters Studio
Published on March 11, 2020 - Duration: 02:47s

Exclusive: White House ordered classified coronavirus meetings

The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials.

Lisa Bernhard has more.

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Exclusive: White House ordered classified coronavirus meetings

The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, Reuters has learned exclusively - an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government's response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials.

The officials said that dozens of classified discussions about the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health & Human Services.

One official told Reuters, "We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go.

These should not be classified meetings.

It was unnecessary." The sources said the National Security Council, which advises the president on security issues, ordered the classification.

An NSC spokesman did not respond to questions about the meetings at HHS.

Critics have hammered the Trump administration for what they see as a delayed response to the outbreak, a lack of transparency and providing misleading or incomplete information to the public.

State and local officials also have complained of being kept in the dark about essential information from the federal government, particularly the availability of test kits.

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts said this: (SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) REP.

STEPHEN LYNCH, SAYING: "The president on March 6 told the people in my district publicly that the tests were ready.

Anybody who wants a test can go be tested.

'They're beautiful tests, beautiful tests' - that's not a medical term.

So, my constituents went to their local medical centers, went to their hospitals - there were no tests!

Zero!

Zero!

And I know they're rolling out now, but this was back on the 6th.

That's not a good situation!" Lynch went on to say that Trump is doing a disservice when he tells the public the number of cases is going down.

(SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) PRESIDENT TRUMP, SAYING: [FEB.

26] "We have a total of 15 cases, and the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero." [FEB.

28] "It's going to disappear, one day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear." (SOUND BITE) (ENGLISH) REP.

STEPHEN LYNCH, SAYING:"They doubled yesterday in my district - doubled!

We really need honesty here.

When the president is making statements like this, we need pushback from the public health officials.

Standing behind him and nodding silently, or an eye roll once in a while, is not gonna get it." Separately, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday decided to suspend non-essential travel for its employees because of the spread of the coronavirus.

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