A former adviser to US Vice-President Mike Pence claims Donald Trump once suggested COVID-19 might be a good thing because it would stop him from having to shake hands with "disgusting people".
Olivia Troye, who served on the White House coronavirus task force, is the latest former member of the Trump administration to speak out against the president and urge US voters to deny him a second term.
She joins a growing list that includes Miles Taylor, former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, and former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.
A lifelong Republican, Troye says she plans to vote for the Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, in November's presidential election.
In a video released on Thursday by the group Republican Voters Against Trump, Troye says working for the US leader was "terrifying" and claims he was more concerned about his re-election chances than about protecting the nation from the virus.
"The truth is he doesn't actually care about anyone else but himself," she says.
Troye alleges that, during one task force meeting she attended, the president said: "'Maybe this COVID thing is a good thing. I don't like shaking hands with people. I don't have to shake hands with these disgusting people.'"
She said: "Those disgusting people are the same people that he claims to care about.
"If the president had taken this virus seriously, or if he had actually made an effort to tell how serious it was, he would have slowed the virus spread, he would have saved lives."
Trump told reporters he never met Troye. He said she was let go but wrote a "beautiful letter" praising the administration on her way out.
In that letter, released by the White House, Troye said it has been an "absolute honour" to work on the coronavirus task force but did not offer praise for Trump or Pence.
The White House adamantly denied the exchange Troye described, with White House spokesperson Judd Deere saying "her assertions have no basis in reality".
Pence, in comments to reporters, described Troye's words as sounding like those of a disgruntled employee who was playing politics during an election year.
AP with Reuters
Australian Associated Press