Trump admits he lied about COVID-19 threat
President Donald Trump knew in early February that the coronavirus posed a unique and deadly threat to the United States, and was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
At the time, Trump repeatedly publicly downplayed the virus as no more dangerous than the flu.
The revelation is one of many in journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, “Rage,” for which Trump granted Woodward a series of interviews.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 call with Woodward. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
“This is deadly stuff,” he repeated.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, according to a copy of the book obtained by CNN. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
But by ignoring reality in public, the president didn’t prevent panic, he provoked it. Many statements Trump made as the virus spread in the U.S. were outright falsehoods:
- “We have it very much under control in this country.”
- “It’s going to be just fine.”
- “It’s one person coming in from China.”
- “We’re doing a great job with it.”
- “It’s going to have a very good ending for us.”
- “We’re in great shape.”
- “We have 12 cases — 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.”
- “Just stay calm. It will go away.”
- “And again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
- “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
Responding to the bombshell on Wednesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump “has never lied to the American public on COVID” and also claimed he “never downplayed the virus.”
Republican lawmakers had mixed reactions.
When asked about Trump’s admission in Woodward’s book that he downplayed the coronavirus, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters on Capitol Hill, “It doesn’t sound ideal to me.”
“I don’t think he needs to be on TV screaming, ‘We’re all going to die,’” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch supporter of the president, countered.
“His actions shutting the economy down were the right actions.”
Trump repeatedly resisted calls to shut down businesses in order to save lives. In March, he claimed that the U.S. would see more deaths from an economic shutdown than from coronavirus.
Nearly 190,000 Americans so far have died of COVID-19, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.
Separately on Wednesday, emails obtained by Politico showed that the Trump administration has tried to muzzle Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, and encouraged him to minimize the risk that the coronavirus poses to children. Fauci told the outlet that nobody tells him what to say, and that he “speaks on scientific evidence.”
According to The Washington Post, Woodward’s book is based in part on 18 on-the-record interviews with Trump from December through July. Woodward also interviewed former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats.
In addition to documenting the Trump administration’s failed and fragmented coronavirus response, the book also chronicles Trump’s response to anti-racism demonstrations, North Korean diplomacy and other topics.
White House denies Trump misled public
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday denied that President Trump deliberately misled the public on the coronavirus as excerpts from journalist Bob Woodward’s book revealed that the president acknowledged in March he wanted to downplay the virus.
At a contentious briefing, McEnany vociferously defended Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying he “never lied” to the American public about COVID-19 and that he publicly sought to express calm and hope that the virus would recede quickly while taking the threat seriously.
“At a time when you’re facing insurmountable challenges, it’s important to express confidence, it’s important to express calm,” McEnany told reporters.
“The president has never lied to the American public on COVID. The president was expressing calm and his actions reflect that,” the press secretary continued.
The briefing, which was delayed by nearly an hour Wednesday afternoon, took place shortly after news outlets reported on excerpts of Woodward’s book. In an interview with Woodward on March 19 — one of 18 private, on-the-record interviews that the president participated in for the book — Trump told the Washington Post journalist that he “wanted to always play it down” in reference to the coronavirus.
"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward in the March interview, according to a tape of the exchange released by CNN. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
Trump also told Woodward in a Feb. 7 interview that the virus was “deadly stuff” and “more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” The comments bore stark contrast to Trump’s public comments at the time in which he repeatedly insisted that the United States had the virus under control and projected that the cases would soon be reduced “close to zero.” Trump also at various points compared the virus to the seasonal flu.
McEnany repeatedly rejected the idea that Trump misled the public on the virus on Wednesday. She also touted his response to the pandemic, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) issuance of a Wuhan travel warning before there were any confirmed cases in the U.S., Trump’s decision to restrict travel from China in February, and his efforts to deliver a vaccine through Operation Warp Speed.
McEnany also read off complimentary public comments Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, has made about Trump in order to rebut questions about Fauci’s criticism of the president as reported by Woodward.
“This president has done an unprecedented job dealing with COVID,” McEnany insisted.
Trump has faced consistent criticism for his rhetoric and actions downplaying the threat of the virus. Polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of COVID-19, putting him at a disadvantage in his battle for reelection.
The revelations in Woodward’s book, “Rage,” opened Trump up to more scrutiny on Wednesday. Speaking at a campaign event in Michigan, Democratic nominee Joe Biden accused Trump of willingly lying to the American public about the threat from the virus, calling it a “dereliction of duty.”
“He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months,” Biden said. “It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”
Trump ‘willingly lied’ about COVID-19, Biden says of damning recordings
Joe Biden castigated President Donald Trump over the damning comments he reportedly made about the coronavirus pandemic in recording excerpts released Wednesday.
“He knew how deadly it was. It was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down,” the Democratic presidential nominee said at an event for the UAW International Union. “Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”
While Biden was en route to Michigan for the campaign event, media outlets reported excerpts of journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book on Trump, who reportedly told Woodward in March that he was intentionally playing down the severity of the pandemic.
Biden said he was briefed on the news when he landed for Wednesday’s event.
“He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose,” Biden told union workers before his prepared remarks.
“How many families are missing loved ones at their dinner table tonight because of his failures? It’s beyond despicable,” Biden said. “It’s a dereliction of duties and disgrace.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating a potentially criminal scheme involving paying a bribe to people either in or affiliated with the White House in exchange for an unknown person receiving a presidential pardon, according to court documents that were unsealed Tuesday.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s lawyer who has led the most extensive efforts to damage his client’s political rivals and undermine the election results, discussed with him as recently as last week the possibility of receiving a pre-emptive pardon before Mr. Trump leaves office, according to two people told of the discussion.
Attorney General William Barr said there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the election, undercutting President Trump's repeated baseless claims to the contrary. "To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election." Barr said that U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been following up on specific complaints following the election but have yet to discover anything on a scale that would overturn President-elect Joe Biden's victory.
Gabriel Sterling, a high-ranking Georgia elections official, walked to a lectern in the State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday and angrily denounced the violent threats and harassment directed at people working on elections issues, urging President Trump to condemn it. “It has to stop,” said Mr. Sterling, a Republican. “Mr. President, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This has to stop. We need you to step up, and if you’re going to take a position of leadership, show some.”