In a February interview with journalist Bob Woodward, President Donald Trump acknowledged the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then in a March interview, Trump downplayed the public health threat, according to an account of Woodward’s new book.
On March 19, Trump told Woodward, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic,” according to an audio clip posted Wednesday on The Washington Post’s website.
The newspaper outlet obtained a copy of the book, called “Rage,” which will be released next week.
Rage is based on 18 on-the-record phone calls Woodward had with Trump between December and July. Woodward, an associate editor of The Washington Post, is one of the highly respected veteran journalists.
In the same interview, the president acknowledged that COVID-19 was more deadly than he previously thought. Trump said, “Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. But just today, and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older,” adding, “young people, too, plenty of young people,” according to the audio clip.
Trump has been getting low marks from voters for how his administration handled the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, he told reporters that he had been trying to avoid “panic” and was showing “leadership.”
Trump said, “We have to show calm. Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We have to show strength.”
“We don’t want to go around screaming, ‘Look at this, look at this,’” he added.
Democratic party’s presidential nominee Joe Biden said Wednesday that more than 190,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19, calling Trump’s words “beyond despicable.”
Biden said, “It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.
On a phone call, Trump told Woodward on February 7, “This is deadly stuff. 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. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
According to the book, Trump was given dire warnings in January about the coronavirus that would lead to a global pandemic in March.
On January 30, Trump said, “We only have five people [infected by COVID-19]. Hopefully, everything’s going to be great.” A few days later, he said, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
Despite early warnings about the deadly virus, Trump continued to hold political rallies and told reporters at the White House on February 27, “This is a flu. This is like a flu.”
On Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Trump in an interview on MSNBC, saying his “downplaying” cost lives.
She told Andrea Mitchell, “The denial about the threat is responsible for many of the deaths and infections that we have today, not all of them, but many of them, could have been prevented.”
Woodward also recalled a conversation between Dan Coats, former director of national intelligence, and James Mattis, former defense secretary, in which Mattis told Coats, “The president has no moral compass.” To which, Coast agreed, according to Rage. Coats is quoted by Woodward as saying, “To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”