'He was warned': Former U.S. coronavirus task force aide slams Trump's handling of crisis

A former member of U.S. President Donald Trump's COVID-19 task force says the president was warned "very early on" about the severity of the virus but still went "out of his way" to "undermine" efforts against it.

"The president was told very early on that this virus would be worse than the flu," said Olivia Troye, former aide to Vice President Mike Pence, in an interview with CTV Question Period Host Evan Solomon airing Sunday.

"He specifically said, 'Is this worse than the flu?' He was told, 'Yes, it absolutely is. It spreads a lot faster, and it can be deadlier from what we're seeing'…He was warned."

She added that "he goes out of his way to undermine it and to say the pandemic, you know is going away that cases were going away."

In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, Trump downplayed the virus as being no worse than the flu. Since Trump’s own COVID-19 diagnosis three weeks ago, the president has continued to downplay the severity of the virus, telling Americans “don’t be scared” of the deadly illness.

"Don't let it dominate your life," the president wrote on Twitter on Oct. 5.

Trump also downplayed the upswing in cases during the U.S. presidential debate on Thursday night.

"We're rounding the corner. It's going away," Trump said during the debate, as cases continue to surge in most U.S. states.

"I say we're learning to live with it," he added.

To date, more than eight million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 220,000 have died.

Troye said that working with the president on the COVID-19 response wasn't easy.

"It would go in one ear and out the other…It was a daily struggle to figure out how we would overcome this dynamic with the President, and the truth is, we were never going to win," she said.

Troye, once a homeland security official, was Vice President Mike Pence’s top aide on the White House coronavirus task force until she left in August 2020. While the lifelong republican contends she resigned, Pence's national security adviser Mike Kellogg asserts he fired her and escorted her off the compound.

"They all know the truth. Gen. Kellogg and I had a great working relationship. I worked for him directly for over two years…I was dedicated in my role, and so for him to say that he escorted me out was just appalling to me," Troye said, disputing the claims.

She added that anyone who speaks out on what she referred to as "the president's own version and reality of his own" gets "labelled as a disgruntled employee."

Still, despite the pushback, she didn’t mince her words during her interview with Solomon.

"The president himself is actually responsible for the ridiculous amount of misinformation he has been giving the American people on a daily basis since this pandemic started, and it didn't have to be this way," Troye said.

Her comments echo claims made by Washington Post journalist and bestselling author Bob Woodward, who interviewed Trump more than a dozen times for a new book on the president, "Rage."

In the new book, Trump is quoted describing COVID-19 as "deadly stuff" and highly contagious. Trump made these comments to Woodward in early February -- a time when he was publicly downplaying the disease, claiming it's no worse than the flu.

Troye said the White House was receiving warnings about a potentially difficult winter ahead during briefings that took place in the spring.

"We were discussing this in the spring and summer, saying if we don't slow the spread of the virus now, we will face some very dark days ahead of us with this virus, and I'm watching this play out," Troye said.

"It's no time to be doing a victory lap."

In the wake of her own experiences in the White House, Troye said she'll be doing something different on election day this year.

"I support Joe Biden," Troye told Solomon.

"I think that what Joe Biden will do, that this president is incapable of, is understand the importance and the respect that the Oval Office deserves."

Americans head to the polls on November 3.