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Documents Show Trump Broke Health Guidelines at Rally 1 Day Before Testing Positive

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Documents Show Trump Broke Health Guidelines at Rally 1 Day Before Testing Positive

2020-10-26 21:50:19

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Donald Trump (Image source: Screenshot)

Details are now being released that show Donald Trump did not follow health guidelines when he held his Duluth, Minnesota, rally that was just a little more than 24 hours before he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Before the September 30 rally, local officials had asked the campaign to follow state public health guidelines meant to help control the spread of the virus, according to documents. The campaign signed an agreement, then broke it.

As part of the rules, attendance for the rally was supposed to be limited to 250 people. Yet, on the day of the rally, Trump supporters poured into the Duluth International Airport. They were not social distancing, and many were not wearing masks.

"We have been notified that the 250-person limit has been exceeded," wrote an airport representative in an email to a campaign official late in the afternoon. "This email serves as our notice of a contract violation, and we are requesting you remedy the situation." The warning wasn't answered or heeded. There were more than 2,500 people at the event.

The Washington Post obtained the emails and documents through open-records requests. They show Duluth officials insisted that the campaign obey the rules and commit to following the rules, but they did not. Ultimately, the rules were not enforced, as public health officials feared a backlash from the president.

"We will not incite an incident by unilaterally taking physical action to close the event," wrote the airport's executive director, Tom Werner, to the airport's appointed board members the morning before the rally.

State health officials have traced 19 cases of the virus to two Trump rallies in September. Three of them were at the Duluth event.

The Duluth Airport Authority said in a statement that it takes health mandates seriously. "It was made clear to the Trump campaign, in the lead-up to the event, that compliance with the State of  Minnesota's current public health executive orders was an expectation of the DAA," said the statement.

Mike Pence planned a rally for Monday afternoon in an airport in Hibbing, Minnesota, about 60 miles north of Duluth. At least five members of his staff have tested positive in the past week, though he has tested negative.

An online registration form for the event requires those attending to "acknowledge that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists" and to release the campaign from legal liability. The Trump campaign has required these waivers for all events since June.

The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority told one of its tenants early last month that it couldn't hold a 5,000-person Trump rally in a hangar, citing the state's limit of 50 people in a crowd, according to another letter obtained by the Post.

Airport officials said at the time that it had nothing to do with politics. However, the Trump campaign replied, "Democrats are trying to keep President Trump from speaking to voters." The campaign found another airport in Nevada to agree to hold the event.

Duluth airport officials were approached about the rally in late September. The area was already seeing a spike in the virus, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) had issued an executive order in June that limited outdoor gatherings to 250 people.

Initially, the campaign wanted 9,000 people at the event, according to an email the local fire chief, Shawn Krizaj, sent to deputies. He wrote that he was trying to work with the airport and campaign to ensure the governor's order was followed.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson (D) received an email from City Council member Joel Sipress, who wrote, "Whether the event is indoors or outdoors, under the law, the attendance must be limited to 250 people."

She responded she was still getting information about the rally and that "we have been explicit and clear on this with them."

Sipress wrote to two airport authority board members that he believed the airport was "legally obliged" to enforce the 250-people limit was adhered to.

Werner wrote to the Duluth Airport Authority that he would require the Trump campaign to sign a written agreement to obey the health orders of the governor.

"That's all DAA can do," he emailed. "We do not have the resources for enforcement at the event. We will rely on the City's emergency management and police for strict enforcement."

It seems no one wanted to step up and enforce the guidelines. Krizaj spoke to state officials and was told they were were "not going to actively enforce" the 250-people max rule and that they were "washing their hands of it," according to an email two days before the event that Werner sent to board members.

Even the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said in a statement that it didn't have the authority to enforce the order.

Werner wrote in his email to board members that the state had not wanted to enforce the crowd limit, in part because of a provision that exempted federal workers from conducting official business.

"They said, practically we'll have a hard time proving POTUS is not acting in his official capacity during his visit, even though we know it's a campaign. ... Bottom line: the state will not provide any help here," wrote Werner.

The campaign signed an agreement the next day with Werner. It said the airport would provide space for the rally, parking, circulation, and staging and support facilities for a fee of $20,000. A clause is included citing the state's public health emergency, specifying that compliance with the executive orders of the governor is required.

Werner informed the airport's board members that he also signed a nondisclosure agreement preventing him from discussing details of the agreement with them and others. He added that "all airports have had to sign them who have seen rallies at their facilities."

He told the board on the morning of the rally, "I will make another appeal to the campaign, this morning, asking for their plan to comply with the 250-person cap on crowds," he wrote. Records do not show a response from the campaign.

"If they violate the cap, the security guard will inform DAA senior staff and move on to other duties," he added.

Warner explained that airport personnel would notify the campaign by email. The airport would later send a formal letter to the campaign, yet he was not allowed to elaborate on that because of the nondisclosure agreement.

"Of course, it is possible things will go just fine," he wrote. "However, I want to outline the steps in case things go a certain way.

Later in the afternoon, a board member wrote to Werner asking how many people were expected at the rally. He replied the most recent estimate from the campaign was 1,000, adding, "Perhaps the rain will keep folks home."

As the crowd arrived that night, it triggered the contract violation notification from the airport. Emails show that officials estimated the crowd size to be between 2,500 and 3,000 people.

Krizaj reported to The Post that city officials expected the campaign would encourage masks and social distancing. "We were kind of under the impression that there would be a little bit more enforcement from campaign staff and volunteers, which we did not see," he said.

"It's really hard to stand up to a president who insists on holding an event that puts the health of your community at risk because presidents have a lot of power," said Sipress.

Hanke, the attorney, sent the campaign a formal letter on October 5, notifying them that they had breached the agreement's 250-people limit. It also informed them they had not paid the airport the $20,000 fee for hosting the event. 

Officials won't say whether they have since been paid, as that's covered in the nondisclosure agreement. But it's known the Trump campaign is having money trouble.

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