George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of "gaslighting" America through his roundly-criticized claim that President Donald Trump failed to adequately address the coronavirus pandemic because of impeachment.
"Look at the calendar. The impeachment trial ended on Feb. 5," Conway wrote in The Washington Post. "In reality, it was over before it even started, thanks in large part to McConnell. The only drama was about whether there'd be any witnesses — and that ended on Jan. 31, when the Senate voted not to hear testimony. That left plenty of time to deal with the virus."
"Impeachment didn't consume the government," Conway continued, "and Trump managed to visit his Mar-a-Lago estate for rounds of golf on at least four occasions in January and February, after the coronavirus pandemic had already reached the U.S."
Conway added that Trump held five campaign rallies around the country during this same period.
Trump publicly commented on COVID-19 on four separate occasions between Jan. 22 and Feb. 2, Conway said, and intelligence agencies warned both the president and Congress about the nature of the threat.
"The problem wasn't impeachment — it was the president," Conway wrote. "There was never any chance that the government was going to take sufficient action on the virus when the president himself wasn't taking the virus seriously. It was Trump, after all, who claimed — at the very end of February, weeks after the impeachment trial had ended — that criticisms such as [Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris] Murphy's were a 'hoax' and that 'within a couple days,' the number of coronavirus cases 'is going to be down to close to zero.'"
McConnell falsely claimed to right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday that Trump failed to respond to the pandemic because of impeachment.
"It diverted the attention of the government," McConnell said, "because everything every day was all about impeachment."
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., made the same claim earlier on Hewitt's program that "unfortunately, Washington, especially the Congress was consumed with another matter — you may recall the partisan impeachment of the president."
Trump was impeached in December for allegedly abusing his presidential power and obstructing Congress after he withheld $391 million in military aid from Ukraine while asking that country to investigate his political rivals. The Senate acquitted him in a mostly party-line vote: All Republicans voted to acquit and all Democrats voted to convict on obstruction of Congress, while Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah broke from his party and joined Democrats in voting to convict on abuse of power.
In addition to downplaying the crisis in January, February and March, Trump disbanded a National Security Council pandemic panel that experts had praised; advocated for major budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control; and failed to provide Americans with accurate scientific information about the pandemic.
"He should have been warning us it was coming," Dr. William Haseltine, a biologist renowned for his work in confronting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, for fighting anthrax and for advancing our knowledge of the human genome, told Salon. "He should have been preparing by stockpiling all the necessary equipment. But even today we're not doing what we should do. Let me put it that way. What we should be doing is contact tracing [identifying people who may have come in contact with infected patients] and having mandatory quarantines for everybody who's been exposed. And quarantining not at home, but in hotel rooms, single occupancy hotel rooms."