الصحة العامة / CBS News, USA

New Jersey contact tracers "frustrated" with RNC info about Trump fundraiser

Less than 24 hours after attending President Trump's fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Thursday, over 200 donors to the president's reelection bid found an alert in their email inboxes from the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee. The subject line of the email, sent at about 11 a.m. Friday, was "Trump Victory."

"Dear Supporter," the letter read, "We cannot thank you enough for all you do for our president ... We unfortunately write today to notify you that, as you have probably seen, President Trump confirmed late last night that he and the First Lady were tested for COVID-19 and produced positive results." 

The four-paragraph email reminded supporters that "no attendees were allowed within 6 ft of President Trump at the event," but encouraged them to "please contact your medical provider if you or any of your loved ones is ill or develops a fever, shortness of breath, or other respiratory symptoms," all the same.

Mr. Trump's announcement early Friday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 left supporters at his last crowded public event at risk of potential exposure to the virus.

Around the same time Friday morning, GOP communications staff also received an email alert: a request from George Helmy, chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, for a list of attendees and their contact information so that contact tracing could begin, officials on both sides confirmed. 

The governor's office told CBS News that it received 206 names from the RNC shortly afterward on Friday afternoon, but an official briefed on New Jersey's contact tracing project noted the GOP's disclosure was incomplete. According to the official, the only contact information provided by the RNC were the names and emails of attendees — no states, towns or telephone numbers were shared, despite the fact that donors had come from multiple states. However, the RNC said that New Jersey officials never followed up to ask for additional information.

In an interview with "CBS This Morning" on Monday, Murphy described the contact tracing process as "extremely frustrating," noting attendees at the event were "nationally based, not just in New Jersey." The governor added, "We've done everything and we continue to do everything we can. We need more out on the federal side of this."

New Jersey health officials were informed that the federal government is also conducting contact tracing, though a source familiar with New Jersey's process tells CBS News the fact-finding missions are operating on "separate, parallel tracks."

N.J. governor: Trump fundraiser "reckless" 01:11

Murphy said at a press conference in Trenton on Monday afternoon that 184 of the 206 attendees had been contacted. Murphy called the responses from attendees a "mixed bag," with some demanding to know how the state got their name. "The Republican National Committee, that's how we got your name," he said.

Murphy said the state is in the process of contacting the 19 staff members who attended, all of whom live in New Jersey.

A federal official confirmed to CBS News that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is "providing technical support to state and local health officials that are doing contact tracing in their state," including New Jersey officials.

New Jersey Department of Health spokesperson Dawn Thomas said in a statement that the department is recommending individuals "self-monitor for symptoms and quarantine if they were in close contact with the President and his staff."

Meanwhile, Somerset County Health Department has begun interviewing dozens of club staff members to assess their level of contact with the president and White House staff. The majority of staff reside in Somerset County, Nathan Rudy, Somerset County public information director noted in a statement.

And while New Jersey health officials say their contact tracing process "is ongoing," White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere told CBS News on Sunday night, "A full contact tracing, consistent with CDC guidelines, was completed for the Bedminster, NJ trip." Deere added, "The President did not have any interactions with Bedminster staff or guests that would be considered to be 'close' based on CDC guidelines (more than 15 minutes and within 6 feet)."

According to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, White House officials went ahead with the campaign fundraising stop after learning top aide to the president Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19, pulling some staff from the trip as a precaution, but not the commander in chief.  

RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel also informed the White House doctor of her positive COVID-19 diagnosis the day before — on Wednesday — an RNC official said. McDaniel had attended a fundraiser with President Trump the preceding Friday, indicating the White House knew the president had potentially been exposed to COVID-19 even earlier, but pressed on with his busy travel schedule.

Murphy told CBS News the White House's decision to hold the event was wrong "at every level." 

"Nobody should have come to New Jersey," he said. "The trip should have been canceled. We're all doing meetings virtually." The state's chief executive added that he hopes the course of events serves as a "wake-up call" to the White House and president. Murphy confirmed the New Jersey attorney general's office is also conducting "aggressive follow-up" to determine if any state laws were violated.

Thursday's fundraiser in Bedminster included indoor and outdoor gatherings, with an intimate roundtable and photo opportunity for guests shelling out more than $35,000. According to guests at the event, mask-wearing was mixed among attendees, and all participants were required to sign a legal waiver, agreeing not to sue if they contract COVID-19.

Murphy said at the Monday press conference that attorney general's office is investigating whether the event violated the state's COVID-19 restrictions. He said early reports indicate that the event violated rules governing the amount of people allowed to be indoors and also food service rules, since buffets are not allowed.

Murphy wouldn't say specifically what action will be taken if the event was found in violation of the restrictions.

Trump bundler Charlie Kolean of Dallas, Texas, noted the president appeared "upbeat" and "sharp," taking questions from the crowd for nearly an hour. "I do believe if [President Trump] had knowledge that he could have coronavirus, the campaign should have cancelled the event," Kolean conceded.

Not all of the 206 guests who attended the fundraiser with Mr. Trump at his New Jersey golf course were tested for the coronavirus prior to the event, a RNC official told CBS News, clarifying an earlier statement alleging all attendees had tested negative. Only those participating in the roundtable or taking photos with the president — roughly 60 individuals paying six-figure sums — received a rapid test prior to the event. Those who only attended the outdoor event just received a temperature check at the door.

RNC officials stressed the guests who were not tested did not come into close proximity with the president, who addressed the reception outside from a platform and at a distance, without mingling in the crowd. Golf club members and guests who did not attend the fundraiser but witnessed its outdoor reception from its grounds observed the socially distanced crowd had "lots of physical barriers" between the president and supporters.

The future of RNC fundraising remains unclear with the party's prime salesman — the president of the United States — recovering from the coronavirus at Walter Reed National Military Hospital. "In-person political fundraisers are over for the foreseeable future," GOP bundler Dan Eberhart told CBS News. "This is the nail in the coffin."

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