September 11, 2020
Last March, President Donald Trump personally told top-tier journalist Bob Woodward that he had deliberately and knowingly played down the threat of the coronavirus during his press events, even though he was aware that it had the potential to be—and already had been seen to be—vastly more serious than the seasonal flu.
In an attempt to walk back that damaging statement this past week, the president explained his rationale for keeping the truth from the American people: He said he “intentionally played down the deadly nature of the rapidly spreading coronavirus in an attempt to avoid a “frenzy” among voters (and in the financial markets); and as part of an escalating damage-control effort by his top advisers,” The Washington Post reports.
“This is deadly stuff,” Mr. Trump said on February 7 in one of 17 on-the-record telephone interviews with Woodward over seven months for his coming book, Rage.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” the president told the author in audio recordings made available on The Washington Post website. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
But three days after those remarks, Trump told the Fox Business anchor Trish Regan: “We’re in very good shape. We have 11 cases. And most of them are getting better very rapidly. I think they will all be better.” A little less than two weeks later, he told reporters on the South Lawn that “we have it very much under control in this country.”
By February 26, the president was publicly dismissing concerns about just how lethal the virus was. “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for,” he said at a White House news conference. “And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.”
And by February 28, The Washington Post reports, at a rally in South Carolina, Mr. Trump denounced Democrats for their concerns about the virus as “their new hoax,” after the Russia
Indeed, according to the Post, Trump was absorbing in real time the information he was given by health and national security experts, he made a conscious choice not only to mislead the public but also to actively pressure governors to reopen states before his own government guidelines said they were ready.
By March, Mr. Trump was straightforward with Woodward about his tactics. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said in an audio recording of an interview on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.
He detailed “the viciousness of the virus,” saying, “You know when it attacks it attacks the lungs. And I don’t know—when people get hit, when they get hit, and now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob.” He went on: “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older. Young people too — plenty of young people.”
And yet in an interview broadcast by Fox and Friends on August 5, Trump asserted: “If you look at children, children are almost, and I would say almost definitely, but almost immune from this disease. I don’t know how you feel about it, but they’ve got stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this.”
One question swirling in Washington this past week was why the president had given Woodward such extensive access. Woodward—a longtime editor and reporter at The Washington Post who with Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon—has written books on most of Nixon’s successors, many of them critical. Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s former top political adviser, noted on Fox News on Wednesday that nearly every president who has cooperated with Woodward has regretted it.
Current White House officials said that Trump opened his door to Woodward in the hope that the eventual book would be positive. The president did not speak to Woodward for his first book on the Trump presidency, “Fear, and the president has maintained that it would have turned out better had he participated.
Officials also said that Trump, who has great faith in his ability to sell people on his version of events, was eager to have Woodward’s seal on his time in office.
Research source: @washingtonpost