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'Proven right': Trump savors post-presidency vindication streak

The 45th president is enjoying a run of belated validation on a series of controversial issues, including: the Covid lab-leak theory, Russian bounties, Lafayette Park police tactics, hydroxychloroquine, and his words to a Georgia election investigator.

Published: June 11, 2021 1:13pm

Updated: June 12, 2021 11:19am

“I have been proven right (once again),” former President Donald Trump declared this week in claiming vindication for advancing the COVID-19 “lab-leak” theory, for which he was roundly jeered last year. 

Whether or not the lab-leak theory turns out to be correct remains to be seen. But the new respect with which the theory is being treated is just one of several high-profile vindications the 45th president has received since leaving office in January. Here are five significant shifts in conventional wisdom and prevailing media narratives that have the former president crowing, in effect, "I told you so!"

1. Lab-leak reversal: Trump had been an early promoter of the possibility that the SARS-Cov-2 virus escaped from a Chinese virology lab, but the hypothesis received widespread backlash from members of the press and scientific community, with Trump being accused of spreading a racist conspiracy theory.

Only over the last few months have more and more government, media and scientific officials signaled an interest in mounting a thorough investigation into the lab-leak theory. Trump himself has touted the newfound interest in the lab as a confirmation of his earlier claims.

"We were right about the China Virus from the beginning, and now the entire world sees it," he said this week.

2. Growing evidence hydroxychloroquine may be effective COVID-19 treatment: Trump had suggested as much early on in the pandemic last year, but his remarks were followed by widespread scientific and media ridicule, with numerous medical officials claiming that HCQ offered no benefit to those suffering from the coronavirus. 

Despite the prevailing stance within the federal public health establishment, several studies over the past year have suggested at least some benefit to HCQ treatment, particularly when administered in an outpatient setting. One recent study (which has not yet undergone peer review) found sharply higher survival rates for patients on elevated HCQ regimens. 

Harvey Risch, a professor of epidemiology at Yale University who for the past year has publicly advocated for increased use of HCQ to fight COVID-19, said the data in the most recent study was "good," though he noted it was "tentative."

"The main evidence for HCQ is in outpatient treatment and in prevention," he said. "Nine studies have examined outpatient treatment. All show benefit." 

HCQ does not appear to a magic bullet to cure COVID-19, though Trump himself acknowledged as much last April in touting the drug as simply "a great thing to try just based on what I know."

Yet even the mixed return on HCQ trials has acted as an effective vindication for Trump, particularly in light of the dire warnings that experts and press outlets issued after his endorsement of the drug. 

3. Intelligence Community doubts about Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan: Trump had earlier been slammed for allegedly having known of the reported bounties without taking action on them. Then-candidate Joe Biden called that alleged lapse "beyond the pale" and "a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation."

The Intelligence Community earlier this year, meanwhile, said it had "low to moderate" confidence in the bounty story. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki admitted in April it was "challenging to gather this intelligence and this data," noting that the allegations relied on "detainee reporting." 

4. IG debunks Lafayette Park photo-op myth — This week an inspector general report revealed that a much-maligned clearing of protesters from D.C.'s Lafayette Park last year was unrelated to the president's subsequent passage through the public space. 

The Lafayette Park debacle emerged last summer as one of many flashpoints amid the often violent and destructive Black Lives Matter-led protests around the country. Critics accused Trump of using federal law enforcement to violently disperse protesters in the square in front of the White House so that he could cross through for a photo-op at a nearby church. 

The Interior Department inspector general's report found that federal law enforcement had "begun implementing the operational plan" to clear the park "several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park." The IG's investigation "did not support a finding that the [U.S. Park Police] cleared the park on June 1, 2020, so that then President Trump could enter the park."

Trump responded to the report with characteristic exuberance, thanking the inspector general "for Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!"

5. Washington Post corrects report Trump urged election official to "find the fraud":

The claim that Trump pressured Georgia's top elections investigator to "find the fraud" in the state's 2020 presidential vote was explosive enough to have made it into the 2021 impeachment memorandum of House Democrats. In its correction two months after the story was first published, the Post admitted that it had "misquoted Trump's comments on the call, based on information provided by a source."

Trump in a statement at the time of the correction sharply criticized what he said was the politicized state of current U.S. media. 

"A strong democracy requires a fair and honest press," he said. "This latest media travesty underscores that legacy media outlets should be regarded as political entities — not journalistic enterprises."

"In any event, I thank the Washington Post for the correction," he added.

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