He had memorably predicted his patient “will be the healthiest individual elected to the presidency.”
Dr. Harold Bornstein, personal physician to Donald Trump, arrives at his New York office. | Joe Marino/NY Daily News via Getty Images
News of Bornstein’s death first surfaced last Thursday, after a paid notice was published in The New York Times.
The Times notice did not state a cause or place of death, and Bornstein’s office did not immediately return a request for comment from POLITICO.
The shaggy-haired, bespectacled gastroenterologist first came to public prominence in 2015, when he authored a note for the Trump campaign memorably predicting his patient “will be the healthiest individual elected to the presidency.”
In sharing the doctor’s report, then-candidate Trump mistakenly attributed it to Dr. Jacob Bornstein — Harold’s father, who had treated Trump until 1980. It was then that Harold took over Trump’s care.
Following Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 White House race, however, the doctor-patient relationship between the two men appeared to deteriorate.
A month after the election, Bornstein seemed relatively unfazed by the prospect of the new president — who, at 70, would become the oldest person to ever assume the office — dying on the job.
“If something happens to him, then it happens to him,” he told Stat News at the time. “It’s like all the rest of us, no? That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”
Tensions escalated further in 2018, when Bornstein accused Keith Schiller — the former White House director of Oval Office operations and Trump’s longtime personal bodyguard — of conducting a “raid” of his office the previous year to obtain the president’s medical records.
Bornstein told NBC News that the frightening episode, which he alleged lasted roughly half an hour, “created a lot of chaos” and left him feeling “raped, frightened and sad.”
Then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders argued that White House staffers were simply following “standard operating procedure” when they seized the documents.
“He dictated that whole letter. I didn’t write that letter,” Bornstein told CNN. “I just made it up as I went along.”
Bornstein’s 2015 report ultimately presaged other rosy assessments of Trump’s health that the White House would promote over the next four years — as well as the president’s unconventional relationships with those responsible for his medical care.
Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the former physician to the president, declared Trump in 2018 to be in “excellent” overall health and in possession of “incredibly good genes” during a White House press briefing.
Two months after Jackson’s telegenic performance before reporters, Trump would name the doctor as his nominee for secretary of Veterans Affairs — picking him to lead the second-largest department across the entire federal government.
The nomination was later derailed by controversy after Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) released allegations that Jackson had overprescribed pills and drank on the job.
The White House eventually withdrew its nomination, even as Trump continued his forceful defense of the doctor, and Jackson departed the White House medical unit.
Jackson would go on to mount a run as a Republican for a Texas House seat, and he won election to Congress last November with Trump’s endorsement.
Sean Conley, Jackson’s successor as physician to the president, also came under scrutiny last October after Trump was hospitalized with the coronavirus.
Throughout his three-day stay at Walter Reed Medical Center, the president’s aides and doctors offered disparate assessments of his health and contradictory timelines of his infection.
For example, after Conley said that Trump was “doing very well” following his first night in the hospital, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters that Trump’s “vitals … were very concerning” and warned that “we’re still not on a clear path to a full recovery.”
The confusion surrounding the president’s condition was similar to the speculation that followed his unannounced weekend trip to Walter Reed in 2019, during which the White House said Trump began “portions of his routine annual physical exam.”
The president seemingly invoked that mysterious Walter Reed trip last July, when he boasted about his performance on what appeared to be a routine cognitive exam.
Although Trump said he took the exam during his last hospital visit a “little less than a year ago,” he also said he requested it from Jackson — who had departed the White House medical unit in 2018.
Last September, Trump denied that his 2019 Walter Reed trip was the result of a “series of mini-strokes” — even though no credible reporting suggested that was the case.