Trump Finally Admits He Played Down Coronavirus Severity AFTER Airing Of Audio Recording

‘I don’t want to create a panic,’ president said in recordings for new book; public-health experts say the move harmed efforts to prevent virus’s spread. Trump Finally Admits He Played Down Coronavirus Severity AFTER Airing Of Audio Recording



President Trump told journalist Bob Woodward this spring that he was deliberately playing down the severity of the coronavirus to avoid inciting panic as he publicly dismissed the virus’s threat in a way public-health experts say harmed the ability to restrict its spread.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward on March 19, according to audio recordings of the interview published by CNN on Wednesday. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”


Trump Finally Admits He Played Down Coronavirus Severity AFTER Airing Of Audio Recording

Weeks earlier, on Feb. 7, Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward the virus was “deadly stuff” and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” according to the recordings.

Related:

Complete Timeline Of Covid19, What Trump Knew And When He Knew It

Yet in public in the weeks that followed, the president routinely compared the virus to the flu and predicted it would soon disappear. On Feb. 26, he said the number of cases in the U.S. “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

The interviews were among 18 conducted with the president for Mr. Woodward’s book “Rage,” which is scheduled to be released Sept. 15.

Public-health experts have said the president’s mixed messages on the threat posed by the virus, paired with his initial reluctance to wear a mask and urge others to do so, hampered the effort to slow its spread.

Mr. Trump, asked about his comments at the White House later Wednesday, defended his remarks and said it was important to express confidence. He called Mr. Woodward’s book a “political hit-job.”

“We had to show calm,” he said. “The last thing we can show is panic or excitement or fear or anything else. We had to take care of the situation we were given.”

Since the first known case of coronavirus arrived in the U.S. in late January, the pandemic has swept across the nation, killing more than 190,000 people and infecting more than 6.5 million.

The pandemic has also dominated the presidential campaign. Democrat Joe Biden has emphasized what he has called the Trump administration’s failure to blunt the virus and prevent American deaths, while the president has touted himself as uniquely capable of restoring the economy, which has been battered by the virus and lockdowns.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump’s comments to Mr. Woodward showed he had “lied to the American people.”

“He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat posed to the country for months,” Mr. Biden said during a campaign event with auto workers in Warren, Mich. “He failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.”

Nearly half the country believes Mr. Biden would be better at handling the pandemic, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken last month, while a third believe Mr. Trump would be better.

The poll found that 58% disapprove of Mr. Trump’s pandemic management, and 53% said he didn’t take the threat seriously enough early on and still isn’t handling it well. Six in 10 say the nation’s response to the virus outbreak has been unsuccessful.

The president’s public comments show that he was publicly minimizing the threat of the virus at the time privately expressed concerns to Mr. Woodward.

On Feb. 7, the day he told Mr. Woodward the virus was “deadly stuff,” he tweeted that Chinese President Xi Jinping would be successful in getting rid of the virus, “especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone.” At an event later that evening, he said it was a “tough situation” but that Mr. Xi had “handled it really well.”

A few weeks after that Woodward conversation, where he had called coronavirus worse than “strenuous flus,” Mr. Trump said the new virus was in some ways easier to manage. “I asked the various doctors. I said, ‘Is this just like flu?’” Trump said at a White House briefing on Feb. 26. “It is a little bit different, but in some ways it’s easier and in some ways it’s a little bit tougher.”

At a campaign rally two days later, Mr. Trump accused Democrats of exaggerating the severity of the virus. “This is their new hoax,” he said.

In early March, about two weeks before he told Mr. Woodward he was deliberately playing down the virus’s threat, Mr. Trump said he was “not concerned at all” about the virus spreading closer to Washington.

Two days before the March 19 interview with Mr. Woodward, Mr. Trump said he had sounded the alarm early on the virus, saying he “always viewed it as very serious.” At a briefing, he told reporters: “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

On March 31, he said at a briefing where he was asked about his comments that the virus would “magically disappear”: “I want to be positive…I want to give people hope. I’m a cheerleader for the country.” Also that day, he characterized the virus as considerably more dangerous than the flu. “It’s not the flu. It’s vicious,” he said.

Mr. Woodward’s book also includes criticism of the president’s handling of the coronavirus response from other administration officials. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s infectious-disease expert, told associates Mr. Trump’s “attention span is like a minus number” and that his “sole purpose is to get re-elected,” the book says.

Dr. Fauci, asked about his alleged comments in the book in an interview with Fox News, noted that Mr. Woodward said he had made the comments to others. “You should ask others,” he said. “I don’t recall that at all.”

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