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Trump’s doctors grapple with competing demands from public and patient, experts said

The chief White House physician was facing heavy scrutiny over the weekend for obscuring aspects of President Donald Trump’s health after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, focusing attention on the vexing challenge he faces navigating the demands of an anxious nation and a commander-in-chief who favors rosy assessments.



a group of people standing in front of a building: Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump, briefs reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 4, 2020.


© Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump, briefs reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 4, 2020.

“When you’re in a complicated situation like this, you can only go so far,” said Dr. Benjamin Aaron, the chest surgeon who in 1981 removed the bullet from President Ronald Reagan, and said he and his colleagues “felt a sense of duty to level with the American people.

“It’s appropriate to be open, but there has to be a certain amount of implied trust” with his VIP patient,” he said.

MORE: An unusual patient, an unusual treatment: Trump and the risks of ‘VIP syndrome’


a group of people standing in front of a building: Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump, briefs reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 4, 2020.


© Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Dr. Sean Conley, physician to President Donald Trump, briefs reporters at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Oct. 4, 2020.

The man standing at the crossroads of these competing interest now is Dr. Sean Conley, an Afghan War veteran and military physician who has addressed reporters twice over the weekend about the president’s battle with the novel coronavirus, a diagnosis he received late last week.

Conley offered conflicting statements about the president’s health status and treatment timeline, prompting a crisis of credibility emanating from the esteemed hospital’s medical staff. On Saturday, Conley said he and his staff were “extremely happy with the progress the president has made,” and described his symptoms as mild. But after the briefing concluded, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows offered a vastly more dire prognosis, calling the president’s vitals on Friday “concerning.”

MORE: Trump adviser defends campaign virus precautions despite packed events, maskless attendees

Conley attempted to clean up the diverging takes on Sunday, telling reporters that Meadows’ comments had been “misconstrued,” but acknowledged he was “trying to reflect the upbeat attitude of the team and the president, over the course of the illness, has had,” in describing the president’s status.

“I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction,” Conley said, “and in doing so, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.”



a man sitting at a table using a laptop: U.S. President Donald Trump works in a conference room while receiving treatment after testing positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S. October 3, 2020.


© White House/via Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump works in a conference room while receiving treatment after testing positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S. October 3, 2020.

The president’s critics have accused the White House of deliberately misleading the American people. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, issued a call on Sunday for the full details of Trump’s health status to be released, along with the names and health status of everyone who has tested positive at recent related events.

“When you don’t have full transparency, when there’s