An intriguing connection related to one of America’s top health officials at the center of the national discussion over the potential severity of the coronavirus in America has some wondering about a conspiracy, while others find only a coincidence.
Fears that the coronavirus will have devastating impacts beyond those already being registered around the globe have triggered a major Wall Street selloff. President Donald Trump has pushed back against the culture of panic.
But is there a political tinge to the pronouncements? Speculation that there could be rose after it was discovered that the health official making dire pronouncements about the impact of the coronavirus contrary to those offered by Trump is connected to another high-profile individual who was often at odds with the president — former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Rosenstein, who played a role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, had a checkered relationship with Trump. In 2018, The New York Times linked Rosenstein to an internal administration plot to record Trump in secret and then invoke the 25th Amendment, under which a president can be removed for being unfit to perform his duties. Although Rosenstein denied the claim, the accusation cast a shadow over his final months as deputy attorney general.
During a hearing to be confirmed to that post, Rosenstein submitted written testimony saying that his sister was “Dr. Nancy Messonnier and that “she is the Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but more really a question of when it will happen,” she said, according to NPR, adding that a “significant disruption” to Americans’ daily lives is possible.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare with the expectation that this could be bad.”
The combination of her recent comments and her family connection has led some commentators to voice a concern that Messonnier might be pushing the panic button harder than necessary for motives that had nothing to do with health.
“Rod Rosenstein as we all know definitely worked to undermine the Trump administration, which is oddly exactly what his sister is doing by undermining the more logical and calm message the president’s team has issued on the virus,” an article on commentator Wayne Dupree’s website read.
The article contrasted the more dire comments voiced by Messonnier and Republican Sen. Mitt Romey of Utah with others from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
“It’s interesting to see the contrast in statements from those that are clearly aligned with the president to those who are not,” the article went on. “Looks like this is yet another instance of D.C. swamp creatures using any opportunity to undermine President Trump.”
Talk show host Rush Limbaugh has said that overhyped predictions about the virus are driven by politics and not medicine.
“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” he said on a recent broadcast.
Others have defended Messonnier.
“I’ve heard people jumping on Nancy Messonnier because she told us the truth: that it’s not a matter of if but when,” Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said, according to Politico. “Isn’t that what you want to hear instead of some pie in the sky?”
Some took the approach that if conservative commentators were citing the connection, there must be nothing to it.
Rush Limbaugh and right-wing fringe sites are attacking Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top CDC official handling the coronavirus response, because she is Rod Rosenstein’s sister. They’re spreading the lie that she’s part of the deep state and trying to tank the markets to weaken Trump.— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) February 26, 2020
Limbaugh, however, stuck to his guns and said that political motives should never be dismissed.