Former Trump deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger details "grave misstep" in pandemic response

Former Deputy NSA Matt Pottinger calls lack of mask guidance under Trump a "grave misstep"
Former Deputy NSA Matt Pottinger calls lack o... 00:56

Former Trump deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger says that it was a "grave misstep" for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wait until April 2020 to advise the American public to begin wearing masks as a means to protect against the deadly coronavirus pandemic. In an excerpt of an interview set to air on "Face the Nation" this Sunday, Pottinger told moderator Margaret Brennan that the "mask misstep cost us dearly."

"It was the one tool that was widely available, at least homemade, you know, cotton masks were widely available," Pottinger said. "It was the one effective, widely available tool that we had in the arsenal to deal with this...It was a grave misstep."

As the pandemic began its rapid spread across the United States in March of last year, key administration and COVID-19 task force officials publicly advised against wearing masks, a recommendation that was partially based on the fact that hospitals faced drastic shortages of personal protective equipment.

Pottinger turned to the government of Taiwan to secure a batch of masks that he distributed to White House medical staff and the national security team that reported to him. He said the remainder was donated to the national stockpile. The CDC did not issue formal guidance on mask wearing to the public until April.

In a previous interview with "Face the Nation" last March, then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams told the program that "masks do not work for the general public and preventing them from getting coronavirus." Doctors Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and then-CDC Director Robert Redfield were also giving similar guidance.

On February 27, while testifying before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, Redfield advised prioritizing masks for frontline health care workers and stated there was "no role for masks in the community." The following week, Fauci told a Senate committee that masks were unnecessary "because right now, there isn't anything going around right now in the community, certainly not coronavirus, that is calling for the broad use of masks."  

Adams appeared again on "Face the Nation" in July, this time donning a mask, and urged viewers to wear face coverings when they are in public.

The surgeon general said at the time that the shift in guidance to the American people was attributed to a better understanding of the coronavirus and how it spreads. Still, former President Trump himself rarely donned a mask and openly questioned their usefulness.

The CDC has since issued explicit mask guidance calling for  "universal mask wearing" in all activity outside of one's home, as well as revised guidelines unveiled last week that recommend wearing well-fitting face masks or two masks at a time in certain situations to improve the fit and filtration to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Pottinger rang early alarms inside the Trump administration regarding the virus' potential ferocity and impact on the U.S. He said the information that he was receiving from making personal calls to doctors on the ground in China provided more accurate information than what was being shared by the Chinese government with their CDC counterparts.

Pottinger also pointed to the collection and analysis of data related to the virus' spread in real time as a grave problem he says has yet to be rectified under the Biden administration. He said he is speaking out now in the hope of supporting new CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky's attempts to reform the CDC and to scale up such virus sequencing and surveillance in order to more quickly track its spread.

"...Where it's appearing, but also how its genetics are evolving so that we can stay ahead of it, ensure that that we don't get sucker punched by a new variant that could compromise the effectiveness of our vaccine." 

Pottinger, who started his time in the Trump White House back in 2017, resigned from his post at the National Security Council shortly after the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol carried out by Trump supporters, telling Brennan it "was the moment where I felt that it was appropriate for me to go."

Shani Benezra contributed reporting 

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    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"