In an interview set to air Tuesday night on NBC Nightly News and previewed on the Today show, a former aide to Vice President Mike Pence calls the administration's response to the novel coronavirus pandemic "frightening."
Olivia Troye, who spent six months participating in meetings held by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, left the administration in June.
As for why she decided to speak out about her experience, Troye told Nightly News' Andrea Mitchell, "I felt that, in my heart and in my entire being, I think American lives were continuing to be on the line."
Even as the virus began taking hold in the United States, the president, Troye claimed, was focused on his own image rather than on keeping Americans healthy.
“He was really focused on public image, messaging and it was really more about, you know, his personal agenda than really the agenda that the task force had at hand, which was: 'How are we going to save and protect Americans?' ” Troye said.
Troye added that the task force discussed the severity of the virus at a meeting held in late January, around the same time that the first cases were confirmed in the U.S. A week after that meeting, President Donald Trump said that he expected the virus to "disappear."
"It was frightening," Troye said when asked about Trump's comments publicly understating the severity of COVID-19. "When you're the president, words matter."
The White House did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Troye's recollections echo Trump's own private statements. In September, veteran journalist Bob Woodward released taped conversations from February, in which the president acknowledged the virus was "deadly stuff," even as he continued to publicly downplay it.
To date, over 200,000 people have died in the U.S. from the respiratory illness, and some 6.8 million Americans have contracted the virus so far, according to a New York Times tracker.
Troye also told Mitchell of a meeting in which Trump allegedly remarked that COVID might not be such a bad thing, as it would mean he wouldn't have to shake so many hands while on the campaign trail.
"I was sitting to the right of him in the room that he said that," Troye told Mitchell, recalling the president's words: " 'You know when you're a politician, you have to shake a lot of hands … and these people are disgusting, it's gross … COVID's probably a good thing, right? I don't have to shake hands. I don't have to do that anymore.' "
According to Troye, the president is less interested in "looking out" for the American people, and more interested in optics.
"He's not looking out for these people," she alleged. "He's not looking out for them. He just wants you in that audience so he can have the camera shot of, you know, his fanfare and the people around him. But the truth is, he's putting those lives at risk.”
Just last week, Troye — a self-described "lifelong Republican," — told the Washington Post that Trump's response to the virus had cost lives and that she would be voting for Democrat Joe Biden for president.
In response to her recent comments, Trump has said he has "no idea who she is," while Pence — who she worked beneath for two years as a Homeland Security and counterterrorism aide — has dismissed her a "disgruntled employee."
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