Donald Trump told Bob Woodward, the Washington Post journalist, that he played down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic even after his aides warned that it would be the “roughest thing” he would face as US president.
Mr Trump told Mr Woodward in March that Covid-19 was “deadly stuff” while simultaneously dismissing the seriousness of the virus, according to Rage, the latest book on the presidency from the journalist.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Mr Trump told Mr Woodward, the veteran journalist whose stories on the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as president.
In his second book on Mr Trump, Mr Woodward wrote that Robert O’Brien, the president’s national security adviser, and Matt Pottinger, his deputy, warned the president in January about the serious threat the virus posed to the US.
“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” Mr O’Brien told Mr Trump on January 28, according to The Washington Post’s account of the book.
In a phone call the following week, Mr Trump told Mr Woodward that the virus was much more serious than his public comments suggested.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Mr 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.”
Several weeks later, Mr Trump declared that the virus, which has killed just under 190,000 Americans, would vanish. “It’s going to disappear,” Mr Trump said on February 28. “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
“The president never downplayed the virus,” Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday shortly after Mr Trump’s comments were published in The Washington Post.
Mr Trump has come under heavy fire over his handling of the pandemic. For several months he tried to deflect criticism by blaming Beijing for the “China virus”.
Over the summer, however, Mr Trump largely avoided talking about the pandemic, as he attempted to shift the public debate ahead of the presidential election to other issues, including his claim that Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, would be weak on “law and order”.
The revelation in the Woodward book will further fuel debate about the way Mr Trump has dealt with the virus, as the US continues to struggle with the public health and economic fallout from the pandemic.
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