- About a week after President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency, he told the veteran journalist Bob Woodward that he “wanted to always play it down” in public.
- Woodward conducted several interviews with Trump for his forthcoming book. CNN obtained a copy of it, along with audio from their on-the-record discussions.
- “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said on March 19.
- Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat of COVID-19, but Woodward’s interviews indicate that he had a more acute sense of its severity earlier than many thought. He told the Watergate reporter in February that COVID-19 was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” contradicting his many public statements comparing COVID-19 to the flu.
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President Donald Trump told Bob Woodward that he “always” downplayed the threat of COVID-19 to avoid causing panic, the veteran journalist wrote in his book “Rage,” set to be released next Tuesday.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, according to CNN, which obtained a copy of the book.
He added, “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
The remarks came roughly a week after Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.
Over 18 interviews with Woodward, the president revealed that he knew far more about the dangers of the virus than previously thought, according to CNN.
Trump told Woodward in February that the virus was “deadly stuff” and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
And in the March 19 interview, Trump mentioned how fatal the coronavirus was. “Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob,” he said, according to audio that CNN obtained.
Trump tells Woodward he played down the threat of the coronavirus.
"I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic."
He also tells Woodward that "plenty of young people" are vulnerable — different from his public message pic.twitter.com/fJZUZtJTIv
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) September 9, 2020
The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, addressed the book during a briefing on Wednesday.
“The president has always been clear-eyed with the American people,” McEnany said, adding that “no one is lying to the American people.”
Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat of COVID-19. Early in the outbreak, Trump suggested that the virus would not spread at scale in the US, even as top public-health experts warned Americans to prepare for severe disruptions to daily life.
On February 26, for example, Trump said the number of COVID-19 cases in the US would be “close to zero” in a “couple of days.” As of Wednesday, the US had the highest recorded number of COVID-19 cases in the world (over 6.3 million) and the most confirmed deaths (nearly 190,000).
The president has also misleadingly compared COVID-19 to the flu, though COVID-19 is far deadlier.
In a Fox News interview a month after he told Woodward that the coronavirus was deadlier than the flu, Trump compared it to the flu to make a case for why economic shutdowns were unwarranted.
“We’ve had horrible flus,” he said. “I mean, think of it. We average 36,000 people. Death, death.”
Trump also told Woodward on February 7 that the virus was airborne, a conclusion the public arrived at later because COVID-19 was thought to spread primarily through touching contaminated surfaces.
“It goes through the air,” Trump said, according to CNN. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one.”
Trump has consistently flouted public-health experts’ recommendations, particularly that people wear masks or face coverings when they’re in public or unable to stay far from others. Over 1,500 people gathered on the South Lawn of the White House last month to hear Trump accept the Republican presidential nomination. Many did not wear masks, and there was hardly any space between chairs, prompting alarm from top medical experts.
Similar to what he told Woodward, Trump publicly acknowledged on March 31 that he knew COVID-19 “could be horrible.”
“I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible, I knew it could be maybe good,” Trump said at a White House press briefing. “I don’t want to be a negative person.”
Trump said he instead wanted to be a “cheerleader” for the US and give Americans “hope.”