‘Play it down’: Trump’s virus bombshell
US President Donald Trump knew the coronavirus crisis was deadlier than the flu but "wanted to always play it down", according to a new book by investigative journalist Bob Woodward.
"This is deadly stuff," Mr Trump told Woodward in a phone call on February 7.
"You just breathe the air and that's how it's passed.
"And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.
He emphasised: "This is deadly stuff."
According to the book, Rage, 10 days earlier national security adviser Robert C. O'Brien had told the President the pandemic would be the "roughest thing you face".
In late February, when there were dozens of cases in the US as opposed to millions, Donald Trump was telling the American people COVID-19 was "like a regular flu" and "going to disappear".
"One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear," he told reporters.
It was a belief he reiterated in July.
In August, Mr Trump tweeted that Woodward's new book "will be a FAKE".
"As always, just as many others have been," he said.
...The Bob Woodward book will be a FAKE, as always, just as many of the others have been. But, believe it or not, lately I’ve been getting lots of GREAT books!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2020
Woodward is the associate editor at The Washington Post and is known for his reporting on the Watergate scandal.
The quotes in his latest book come recordings of his conversations with Mr Trump after 18 on-the-record interviews between December 2019 and July 2020.
On March 19, the President admitted to Woodward: "I wanted to always play it down."
"I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
He had declared a national emergency - "two very big words" - over the virus days earlier.
While speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, Mr Trump reiterated that he had downplayed the threat "in order to reduce panic, perhaps that's so".
"You have to show leadership, and leadership is confidence in our country," he said.
"I'm a cheerleader for this country.
"I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic."
He described the book, to be released next Tuesday, September 15, as "just another political hit job".
According to the Post, Woodwards writes: "Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states."
"There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced," the veteran journalist said.
According to a tally from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, there have been more than 6.33 million cases of COVID-19 recorded in the US and more than 189,000 deaths.
WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE
Earlier on Wednesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Mr Trump.
"When you are facing insurmountable challenges, it is important to express confidence, it is important to express calm," she told reporters in a briefing from the White House.
"He makes clear that he doesn't want to see chaos, by the way, which is the second part of the quote which you failed to read," she continued, addressing a reporter who had read part of the quote.
"The president just days after having this discussion with Bob Woodward, said this from this podium, on March 30, he said, 'I do want them to stay calm, we are doing a great job, if you look at the individual statements they are all true, stay calm, it will go away but it's important to stay calm'.
"So this president does what leaders do - good leaders - it's stay calm and resolute at a time when you face an insurmountable challenge."
BIDEN SAYS PRESIDENT BETRAYED AMERICANS
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the President had "failed to do his job on purpose".
Mr Biden said: "It was a life and death betrayal of the American people."
"He knew and purposely played it down," he said before a campaign speech in Michigan.
"He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months."
I promise you that if I’m elected, I’ll always tell you the truth.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 9, 2020
I’ll listen to the experts and do everything I can to contain this virus.
And I’ll always put your health and safety first — no matter the political cost.
With Fox News
Originally published as 'Play it down': Trump's virus bombshell