Prominent Trump supporters have claimed coronavirus is being used to undermine the president, after it was revealed that a health official who commented on the outbreak is the sister of former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
Dr Nancy Messonnier, a senior official at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), said on Tuesday it was likely that an outbreak would occur in the US and warned the American public to “prepare for the expectation that this might be bad.”
“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” Dr Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, said.
“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen.”
After it was noted that Dr Messonnier is the sister of Mr Rosenstein, who oversaw the Mueller investigation into the president’s alleged ties to Russia, some supporters of Mr Trump have seized on the supposed conspiracy to damage the president.
Rush Limbaugh, a right-wing radio host who was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, drew attention to the family connection, telling his listeners to take the information and “do what you want with it”.
“It may mean nothing. Might … who knows?” Mr Limbaugh told listeners.
“It’s just in that town, I’m telling you, everything is incestuous. Most of that town is establishment oriented or rooted, which means they despise Trump.”
The radio host has previously falsely claimed coronavirus is simply “the common cold” and suggested the outbreak is being “weaponised” against Mr Trump.
Other right-wing media figures accused Dr Messonnier of undermining the president more directly.
“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 the website of conservative commentator Wayne Dupree said.
The article went on to suggest the response to coronavirus was “yet another instance of DC swamp creatures using any opportunity to undermine President Trump.”
Joe Hoft, a writer for far-right website The Gateway Pundit, described Dr Messonnier and Mr Rosenstein as “a sick family and horrible people” as he suggested the coronavirus warning was designed to overshadow Mr Trump’s trip to India this week.
Although the president himself has not commented publicly on Dr Messonnier, he has complained about criticism of his administration’s response to the outbreak.
“If the virus disappeared tomorrow, they would say we did a really poor, and even incompetent, job. Not fair, but it is what it is.”
The president has repeatedly attempted to downplay fears about the virus, which has been blamed for a recent stock market slide, and insisted the risk to the US is “very low”.
In reference to Dr Messonnier’s warning, a senior Trump administration official told CNBC on Thursday that the health expert “never should have said that”.
However, some conservatives have defended the official over the warning.
“Isn’t that what you want to hear instead of some pie in the sky?”