By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff have almost entirely gone into self-quarantine after the Coast Guard's No. 2 tested positive for the novel coronavirus following top-level meetings at the Pentagon last week, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that the military's top brass - with the exception of the Coast Guard vice commandant, Admiral Charles Ray - had all tested negative so far and were still carrying out their duties.
But the disclosure risks adding to a growing sense of uncertainty about operations at the highest levels https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL1N2GX16C of the U.S. government after President Donald Trump himself was infected, along with senior White House staff and other Republican leaders. The White House said the rise in cases among officials in Washington has not disrupted the government.
Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the Democratic-led House Armed Services Committee, issued a terse statement taking aim at Trump and warning "our adversaries are always looking for any weakness to exploit."
"While our military can still operate while leadership is quarantined, the national security implications of the President’s recklessness cannot be overstated," Smith said.
All potential close contacts from Ray's meetings at the Pentagon were tested Tuesday morning and that none of them exhibited symptoms, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
"We have no additional positive tests to report at this time," Hoffman said.
"There is no change to the operational readiness or mission capability of the U.S. Armed Forces."
Ray attended meetings late last week with the U.S. military's top brass, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, Trump's top military adviser, in the ultra-secure "Tank" at the Pentagon.
U.S. officials said Milley was self-isolating, as was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military leaders including the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Space Force. General Paul Nakasone, head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, also met with Ray as did the head of the National Guard.
Two officials said the Marine Corps commandant, General David Berger, did not meet with Ray last week and that Assistant Commandant General Gary Thomas attended the meeting in his place. The Marine Corps confirmed Berger was traveling last week but declined further comment.
Berger would be the only chief of a military service who did not require self-isolation.
The Coast Guard disclosed earlier on Tuesday that Ray had tested positive on Monday for the virus after feeling mild symptoms over the weekend. It said Ray will be quarantining at home.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool)