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Former Aide To Pence On Why She's Planning To Vote For Joe Biden

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump faces an unusual source of opposition to his re-election. A cascade of former officials from his own administration have come out saying he is not suited to the presidency. They include national security and intelligence leaders, Cabinet members and people who worked behind the scenes, like Olivia Troye. She spent two years as homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence. She helped organize meetings of the coronavirus task force. And she left the White House in August. Though she describes herself as a lifelong Republican, she told me she'll be voting for Joe Biden.

OLIVIA TROYE: We are in a critical moment in our country where what matters most is the safety and security of Americans. And I think it's country over party right now for me. And what I've seen the past few years in my tenure in the White House has been upsetting.

SHAPIRO: When we spoke earlier today, she described a few of the moments that drove her to that decision.

TROYE: There were numerous instances where I saw the president speak, you know, during task force meetings - when he did attend them - where he, whether it was a joke or not, has said comments such as, you know, maybe this virus is a good thing. I don't have to shake hands with people anymore. I don't have to shake hands with those disgusting people. It was shocking to me that that is where his focus and his concern was - was just on the interactions with his own voters and Americans instead of the fact that we had a crisis on our hands. There were other moments as well where I would see the president speak during press briefings or in a press conference where he would say the complete opposite of what had been discussed in a task force meeting - for example, the utility of a mask.

SHAPIRO: You're saying the task force concluded that masks were useful, and President Trump either didn't say that or he said we don't know.

TROYE: Absolutely. Even in the West Wing, it was sort of you were looked down upon when you would walk by with a mask. And I just think that that is incredibly dangerous when that is the No. 1, you know, tool in the toolkit that we have. It was appalling.

SHAPIRO: There have been so many confusing statements and false promises. I mean, there was everyone who wants a test can get one. Google will develop a screening website. People will be in churches by Easter. Why do you think that has kept happening?

TROYE: I think the president has a narrative in his head that he wants Americans to believe as disconnected from the reality of what we're facing as it may be. He is focused on making sure that everything seems to be back to normal, that, you know, this was a problem. We solved it. We're moving on to the next thing. It's increasingly disturbing to me that we - as we get closer to the election, this rhetoric continues to ramp up, whether it's discrediting the doctors on something they say when they're trying to talk about the increasing number of cases or whether it's the truth about therapeutics that, perhaps, are not the safest. The day the president suggested people inject themselves with bleach was shocking.

SHAPIRO: Which, last night in the debate, he said he meant sarcastically. But what was the reaction inside the coronavirus task force on that day?

TROYE: Shocking. I mean, there are - there is footage of Dr. Birx reacting. I was certainly sitting in my office watching this, and I had to do a double take and look at the screen and say he did not just say that because the problem is when you're president, again, words matter. And somewhere out there, there is people who are thinking, well, if the president said it, it must be true.

SHAPIRO: You've said the White House is trying to manipulate the message and the numbers to tell a story that is less grim than the reality. How much do people in the White House - do the task force members - believe the stories that the president is presenting?

TROYE: They don't believe them. They're our doctors. These are experts who have consistently tried to do the right thing. They brief him. They tell him the facts. They're telling him the truth. They're telling him things that need to be done. And it is a very frustrating environment to work in when you know that the message that is going to be relayed is counter to what you just told him.

SHAPIRO: And so when the president undercuts somebody like the head of the CDC, does the vice president, or the White House chief of staff, or anybody, kind of like stand up and try to have Dr. Redfield's back?

TROYE: There are certainly other members of the task force who have Dr. Redfield's back. I think the problem is you have a political apparatus at the very top who is in line to perpetuate the president's message. And so you have people like the chiefs of staff who don't have Dr. Redfield's back who are pushing back on this science or data and trying to spin it in a matter that plays to their narrative.

SHAPIRO: Now when the White House has been asked about these criticisms, one of their responses is that they say you were fired because of your job performance and escorted out of the building. Is that true? Were you fired?

TROYE: Absolutely not. Everybody in the White House, you know - or at least in the vice president's office - they know the truth. I know the truth. I worked - I was very dedicated. I did not take a single day off, actually, since last January until early August, when I was able to take a Saturday - or a half Saturday off. I was at every single task force meeting that took place during my tenure year. Not one did I miss.

And I think it's ridiculous for them to come out and say that I was fired when I had conversations with the very people proclaiming that I was fired on national TV about how hard this was for me and the decision to leave and how I felt that I was, you know, leaving people who were hardworking on the task force who really relied on me for a lot of the coordination. I think - you know, I'm grateful to Dr. Fauci, who, you know, was asked during an interview that night. And he's - he himself says that I was critical to the task force. And I am very close to a lot of these people still today.

SHAPIRO: Vice President Pence says the concerns that you are now describing publicly are things that you never raised while you were on the task force. Is that true? And do you think you had a duty to speak up if you thought that American lives were endangered?

TROYE: You know, it's very hard when you're in the situation inside the White House. You learn and pick your battles, and you have these conversations in the inner agency and with the task force principals and behind closed doors. But at the end of the day, there is a culture of fear inside the White House where you really have to be careful how you manage these dynamics.

And if you are still trying to hang in there and make change, you work, you know, to help the people like the doctors and the CDC and the coordination process. And you help strategize on how you're going to overcome some of these dynamics and influence in a manner that still is productive and effective. And it's a constant struggle. I'm not the only one that faced this on a daily basis. I know that the doctors still face this today - and a lot of the task force members. I am positive that the vice president probably goes home at night and tries to figure out how he's going to navigate. He is also in an impossible situation.

SHAPIRO: Olivia Troye, former homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence, thank you for talking with us today.

TROYE: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: And White House spokesman Judd Deere referred us to his earlier statement in which he said Troye's assertions are flat-out inaccurate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.