Book reveals Trump knew virus was deadly but played down crisis

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump acknowledged to a journalist early in the coronavirus pandemic that he played down the danger of the health crisis despite having evidence to the contrary, according to a new book.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Mr Trump told author Bob Woodward on March 19, days after he declared a national emergency. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

CNN on Wednesday broadcast interviews Mr Woodward did with Mr Trump for his new book Rage. The book, to go on sale next Tuesday, comes ahead of the presidential election on Nov 3 and amid criticism of Mr Trump’s efforts to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican President, assailed by his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden over the slow US government response to the virus, played down the crisis for months as it took hold and spread across the country.

In the conversation, Mr Trump told Mr Woodward that some “startling facts” had emerged showing the extent of those at risk: “It’s not just old, older. Young people too, plenty of young people.”

Mr Trump on Wednesday defended his handling of the virus, which has killed over 195,000 people in the US – the world’s highest number of deaths from the disease.

“The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country and I don’t want people to be frightened,” he said. “We’ve done well from any standard.”

According to the interviews, CNN and The Washington Post reported, Mr Trump knew the virus was dangerous in early February.

“It goes through the air,” Mr Trump said in a recording of a Feb 7 interview with Mr Woodward.

“That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed… It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

A week after that interview, Mr Trump said at a White House briefing that the number of US coronavirus cases “within a couple days is going to be down close to zero”.

Mr Woodward defended himself from online critics who questioned why he kept Mr Trump’s comments to himself for months as the pandemic raged.

“He tells me this, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, that’s interesting, but is it true?’ Trump says things that don’t check out, right?” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

PREVENTING A PANIC

The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country and I don’t want people to be frightened. We’ve done well from any standard.

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, defending his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic on Wednesday.

DERELICTION OF DUTY

He knew, and purposefully played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job – on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people. It’s a dereliction of duty, a disgrace.

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE JOE BIDEN, referring to Mr Trump in a speech in the battleground state of Michigan on Wednesday.

Some fellow Republicans defended Mr Trump.

“His actions of shutting the economy down were the right actions,” Senator Lindsey Graham said. “And I think the tone during that time sort of spoke for itself.”

Mr Woodward conducted 18 interviews with Mr Trump for the book. Other revelations include his disparaging remarks about US military leaders.

The President drew criticism this week following reports that he had denigrated fallen military personnel and veterans.

In the book, an aide to former defence secretary James Mattis heard Mr Trump say in a meeting, “my f***ing generals are a bunch of p***ies” because they cared more about alliances than trade deals. Mr Mattis asked the aide to document the comment in an e-mail, The Washington Post reported.

Regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, Mr Woodward asked Mr Trump about his views on the concept of white privilege and if he felt isolated by that privilege from the plight of black Americans.

“No. You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you,” Mr Trump replied. “Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”

Mr Biden on Wednesday accused Mr Trump of betraying the American people, saying he knowingly lied about the deadliness of the coronavirus in what amounted to a “dereliction” of duty.

“He knew, and purposefully played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people,” Mr Biden said in a speech in the battleground state of Michigan.

“And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job – on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people… It’s a dereliction of duty, a disgrace.”

Mr Biden and Mr Trump are ramping up travel in the final sprint to the election during a pandemic that has made waging a traditional campaign all but impossible. The President is expected to visit Michigan and Pennsylvania later in the week.

REUTERS

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