White House attempts to downplay speculation over Trump’s health after unscheduled hospital visit

“What human being on earth has ever had a physical in multiple phases months apart?” one watchdog group asked

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published November 18, 2019 10:44AM (EST)

President Donald Trump at the White House, Oct. 24, 2019.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump at the White House, Oct. 24, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The White House downplayed speculation about President Donald Trump’s health after he made an unexpected trip to Walter Reed Medical Center on Saturday for what he called “phase one” of his 2020 annual physical.

Trump traveled to Water Reed on Saturday afternoon and spent two hours at the hospital, even though there were no public events on his calendar. The hospital received no advance warning that the president would be coming for a “physical.” Trump’s visit did not follow protocol for a routine medical exam, CNN reported, indicating a “non-routine visit” which was “scheduled last minute.” Both of Trump’s previous physicals were announced ahead of time by the White House and appeared on his daily public schedule. Trump’s last physical was in February.

"Visited a great family of a young man under major surgery at the amazing Walter Reed Medical Center," Trump tweeted Sunday. "Those are truly some of the best doctors anywhere in the world. Also began phase one of my yearly physical. Everything very good (great!). Will complete next year."

The president's trip and corresponding tweet led to rampant speculation about the reason for his hospital visit. Robert Maguire of the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington questioned, “@hat human being on earth has ever had a physical in multiple phases months apart?”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tried to downplay the speculation surrounding the president’s visit.

“Anticipating a very busy 2020, the president is taking advantage of a free weekend here in Washington, D.C., to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed,” Grisham said during Trump’s visit.

After he left, Grisham told reporters that Trump "remains healthy and energetic without complaints, as demonstrated by his repeated vigorous rally performances in front of thousands of Americans several times a week."

Grisham later told NBC News that “speculation” about the nature of the president’s hospital visit was “irresponsible and dangerous for this country.”

But a source familiar with the situation told CNN that Trump’s visit to the hospital was “abnormal.” The hospital did not receive advance notice that the president would be coming for a physical. The trip did not appear on the White House internal schedule as of Saturday morning. Unlike previous trips, Trump took a motorcade instead of the Marine One helicopter, as he has done in the past, in spite of clear weather.

Trump’s health has also been the subject of speculation for years as a result of dubious medical information released by the president. Ahead of his election, Trump released a letter from his doctor claiming that he would be the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency. His doctor later admitted that Trump had dictated the letter. Trump’s first physical in office also led to speculation after the results showed that Trump was taller than the height listed on his government documents and that his weight was just short of being classified as medically obese, though he gained four pounds the following year.

The White House’s denials have also been met with heavy skepticism, given that that the administration has made more than 13,400 false and misleading claims in less than 1,000 days since Trump took office, according to the Washington Post.

"Perfect example of how the long history of false statements from White House has worn away any presumption of truthfulness," wrote Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau Chief David Lauter. "Maybe Trump's hospital visit was routine, but burden of proof is on WH to show evidence."

The news was met with far less skepticism on Fox News, where Grisham told host Jeanine Pirro that Trump was “healthy as can be” and had “more energy than anybody in the White House.”

"You know, Stephanie, he's almost superhuman," Pirro replied. "I don't know how anyone can deal with what he's dealing with. I get frustrated with what's going on in Washington. I want to throw things at the television, but I don't."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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