Trump has repeatedly blamed his administration's early testing failures on former President Barack Obama, even though there was neither COVID-19 nor tests for the disease when his predecessor was in office. Trump has also claimed that Obama left him with empty "cupboards" in the national stockpile.
"We started off with a broken system," Trump said last month. "We inherited a broken, terrible system. And I always say it — our cupboards were bare. We had very little in our stockpile."
ABC News anchor David Muir questioned Trump about the claim during a Tuesday interview.
"You're three years into your term . . . What did you do when you became president to restock those cupboards that you say are bare?" Muir asked.
"Well, I'll be honest, I have a lot of things going on," Trump replied. "We had a lot of people that refused to allow the country to be successful. They wasted a lot of time on Russia, Russia, Russia. That turned out to be a total hoax. Then they did Ukraine, Ukraine — and that was a total hoax. Then they impeached the president of the United States for absolutely no reason."
CNN's fact-checkers found Trump's claim to be "misleading." While both presidents failed to replenish the stockpile with masks, Trump reportedly "inherited significant quantities of other supplies" and "had three years in office to build depleted stockpiles back up."
Trump's comments came on the same day that Dr. Rick Bright, who claims he was ousted as the head of an agency overseeing coronavirus vaccine development after pushing back on hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug which Trump touted as a potential coronavirus treatment despite mounting evidence that it does not work, filed a whistleblower complaint accusing the administration of ignoring his warnings about supply shortages.
"[Health and Human Services] political leadership leveled baseless criticisms against [Bright] for his proactive efforts to invest early in vaccine development as well as in critical supplies such as masks, respirators and swabs, which were in short supply and would be necessary to combat COVID-19," the complaint said.
When Bright tried to push Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary of HHS for preparedness and response, to coordinate a federal response as early as Jan. 18, he was met with skepticism, the complaint said.
"Not sure if that is a time-sensitive urgency," Kadlec replied in an email cited in the complaint.
Bright said he was likewise rebuffed when he warned officials that mask manufacturers were having a difficult time reaching administration officials to discuss production plans. But as he and others sounded the alarm, Kadlec and other officials assured the White House in mid-February that there were no immediate issues with the supply chain.
A report issued by the HHS inspector general last month found alarming shortages of personal protective equipment at hospitals around the country.
"Hospital administrators expressed uncertainty about availability of PPE from federal and state sources," the report said. "Some hospitals noted that at the time of our interview they had not received supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile, or that the supplies that they had received were not sufficient in quantity or quality."
The report also revealed complaints about the administration sending out inadequate or faulty supplies.
"One health system reported that it received 1,000 masks from the federal and state governments, but it had been expecting a larger resupply. Further, 500 of the masks were for children and therefore unusable for the health system's adult staff," it said. "One hospital reported receiving a shipment of 2,300 N95 masks from a state strategic reserve, but the masks were not useable because the elastic bands had dry-rotted. Another hospital reported that the last two shipments it had received from a federal agency contained PPE that expired in 2010. The shipment contained construction masks that looked different than traditional masks and did not contain a true N95 seal."
Trump claimed the report, which surveyed hospital administrators around the nation, was "another fake dossier," a reference to the Christopher Steele dossier that played a role in the Russia probe.
The president announced Friday that he would replace Christi Grimm, the acting inspector general who wrote the report, after neglecting to fill the position on a permanent basis for nearly a year.
Democrats accused Trump of trying to hide the "truth" about his handling of the coronavirus response.
"We all know the president hasn't told people the truth about this virus or his administration's response, and late last night, he moved to silence an independent government official who did," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement to The Washington Post. "The president cannot be above oversight, no matter how he denies, attacks and fights against it."