President Donald Trump acknowledged to journalist Bob Woodward that he had knowingly played down the coronavirus earlier this year even though he was aware it was “deadly” and vastly more serious than the seasonal flu.
“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward on Feb. 7 in one of a series of interviews he conducted with the president for his upcoming book, “Rage.”
The Washington Post and CNN were given advance copies of the book and published details Wednesday.
“You just breathe the air, and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
That was a vastly different story than what Trump was telling the public.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
The national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, warned the president Jan. 28 that the coronavirus represented the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency, according to CNN’s account of the book, but Trump later said he did not remember the warning.
In public, Trump repeatedly claimed early on that the virus would disappear. On Jan. 22, asked by a CNBC reporter whether there were “worries about a pandemic,” the president replied: “No, not at all. We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
On Feb. 10 he was predicting that by April, “when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” And Feb. 26, at a White House news conference, commenting on the country’s first reported cases, he said: “We’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.”
But by mid-March he was claiming publicly that “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” By then, experts said, the nation had already fallen behind on the steps it needed to take to combat the virus, from ramping up testing capability to distributing protective gear to health care workers.
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