Donald Trump, in new Bob Woodward book, admits to downplaying coronavirus threat during early days of pandemic

On 7 February, Donald Trump, in one of a series of interviews for Bob Woodward's book, described the coronavirus as 'deadly stuff'

The New York Times September 10, 2020 00:17:37 IST
Donald Trump, in new Bob Woodward book, admits to downplaying coronavirus threat during early days of pandemic

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

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 7 February 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.”

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on 19 March, “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 on 28 January 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 22 January, 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 10 February he was predicting that by April, “when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” And on 26 February, 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.

Elsewhere in the book, according to CNN, the former defence secretary General James Mattis, is quoted calling Trump “dangerous” and “unfit.”

He said he discussed with the former director of the office of national intelligence, Dan Coats, whether there should be “collective action” to speak out publicly against Trump.

And Woodward includes an anecdote about Trump being heard in a meeting saying “my fucking generals are a bunch of pussies” who care more about alliances than trade deals.

Maggie Haberman c.2020 The New York Times Company

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