Bloomberg: President Donald Trump defended telling journalist Bob Woodward that he intentionally downplayed the severity of the coronavirus in public, saying he didn’t want to cause panic or price spikes.
“I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward, the author and associate editor for the Washington Post, on March 19 in one of a series of interviews for his book, “Rage,” due for publication this month.
Trump on Wednesday embraced his comments in the interviews, which were conducted between December and July but weren’t published until CNN and the Washington Post reported on the book Wednesday. He insisted he was right to keep his concerns about the virus private.
“We don’t want to instill panic, we don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem, scare everybody,” Trump told reporters at the White House, after announcing a list of potential Supreme Court appointees.
“The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country, I love our country,” he said. “And I don’t want people to be frightened, I don’t want to create panic, as you say. Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.”
The revelations from Woodward’s book have led to accusations that Trump misled the American public about the severity of the virus. He told the author in an interview in February, when the U.S. had reported few cases of Covid-19, that the virus was more dangerous than the flu.
In public, meanwhile, he favorably compared coronavirus and the flu, noting that there were at the time many more flu deaths in the U.S. Asked whether he thought he could have saved lives if he had been more forthright, Trump said: “If we didn’t do what we did, we would have had millions die.”
“We’ve done, from every standpoint, an incredible job,” he said. “We had to show calm.”
Also read: ‘Very big surprise coming up’ – US could have Covid vaccine in October itself, Trump says
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, leading Trump in polls ahead of the November election, seized on the Woodward interviews, charging that the president is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans for failing to adequately warn of the threat posed by the virus.
“He knew how deadly it was,” Biden said in Michigan. “He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed for months.”
Trump said he also downplayed the threat of the virus because he didn’t “want pricing to go up to a level that becomes almost unaffordable.” He dismissed the reports of his own remarks as “another political hit job.”
“Whether it was Woodward or anybody else, you cannot show a sense of panic or you’re going to have bigger problems than you ever had before,” he said.
He expressed far more alarm in his Feb. 7 interview, when he also told Woodward the virus was airborne.
“It goes through air, Bob, that’s always tougher than the touch,” he told Woodward. “The air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.”
He said in the interview that the virus was more deadly “than even your strenuous flus.”
The same day, Trump tweeted praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s handling of the pandemic.
Woodward’s book reports that Trump was warned by National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien in a Jan. 28 meeting that the virus “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” according to the Washington Post, which said it obtained a copy in advance of publication.
“This is going to be the roughest thing you face,” O’Brien said, according to Woodward, who wrote that Trump’s head popped up at the dire warning. Trump told Woodward in May that he didn’t remember being told that.
Trump restricted travel from China shortly after. “The risk of infection for Americans remains low,” his health secretary, Alex Azar, said on Jan. 31.
The book is based on 18 interviews that Trump gave Woodward between December and July, the Post reported. It also is based on background conversations with officials and other sources.
Polls show Americans are displeased with the president’s handling of the pandemic. Trump has sought to shift blame for the virus, which has killed more than 189,000 Americans, to Beijing, regularly calling it the “China Virus.”
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump never lied or mislead the public. “We want to keep the country calm, that’s what leaders do,” McEnany told reporters at the White House.
“The president never downplayed the virus. Once again, the president expressed calm,” she said. “He was expressing calm, and he was taking early action and his actions are reflective of how seriously he took it.”
But Trump himself told Woodward, on tape, that he “always wanted to play it down,” and there are ample examples of him doing so.
He said Feb. 26 that U.S. cases would fall to “close to zero.” He said the next day the virus would disappear “like a miracle.” He said Feb. 29 that “everything is under control.” On March 9, as Americans began to socially distance themselves to prevent infection, he favorably compared the virus to the flu and said “life & the economy go on.”
Also read: Why the race for a Covid vaccine could do with a few speed bumps
Woodward reports that top U.S. infectious disease official Anthony Fauci told people the author didn’t identify that the White House had “rudderless” leadership and criticized Trump.
“His attention span is like a minus number,” Fauci said, according to the Post’s account of Woodward’s book. “His sole purpose is to get re-elected.”
On Wednesday, McEnany quoted Fauci praising Trump for the government’s response to the virus. “There’s a litany of praise,” McEnany said.
The book said Trump’s former Defense Secretary James Mattis referred to the president as having “no moral compass” and that he is “unfit” for office.
According to the Post account of the book, former intelligence director Dan Coats told Mattis that, to Trump, “a lie is not a lie. It’s just what he thinks.”
Trump also criticized top military leaders, according to the Post account of the book.
“Not to mention my f—–g generals are a bunch of p—–s. They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals,” Trump told one adviser, according to the Post account.
Trump has been under fire for a week after a report by the The Atlantic that he made disparaging comments about American Marines killed in World War I and questioned the value of military service. The White House has disputed parts of that report.- Bloomberg
Also read: AstraZeneca vaccine setback is a reality check in the race to find protection from Covid