As President Trump downplayed the threat of the coronavirus in public earlier this year and offered a string of false and misleading claims, privately, he was telling a very different story. The virus, he acknowledged in a February phone call with journalist Bob Woodward, was actually “more deadly than your strenuous flus” and was “deadly stuff.”
That didn’t stop Trump from suggesting on Twitter that COVID-19 was less dangerous than the flu:
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020
In another phone conversation, Trump admitted to deliberately misleading the public about the virus. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Those are the newest revelations from Woodward’s forthcoming book, Rage, which, according to reports, also alleges that former Defense Secretary James Mattis warned that it might be necessary for senior administration officials to take “collective action” against Trump. That nugget is likely to enrage Trump, particularly amid the backlash prompted by an Atlantic report that he called American soldiers killed in combat “losers.”
But while Trump might work to push back against the comments attributed to Mattis, he’ll have a more difficult time denying his own remarks about the pandemic. After all, during a March 31 press briefing, he all but admitted to lying about the threat of the coronavirus:
“I want to give people a feeling of hope. I could be very negative. I could say ‘wait a minute, those numbers are terrible. This is going to be horrible,'” he said. “Well, this is really easy to be negative about, but I want to give people hope, too. You know, I’m a cheerleader for the country.”
Acosta pressed him: “So you knew it was going to be this severe when you were saying this was under control?”
Basically, yes, Trump responded: “I thought it could be. I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible, and I knew it could be maybe good. Don’t forget, at that time, people didn’t know that much about it, even the experts. We were talking about it. We didn’t know where it was going. We saw China but that was it. Maybe it would have stopped at China.”
Plus, there are tapes!
This is President Trump on tape, on February 7, saying that the coronavirus is "more deadly than your – you know, your, even your strenuous flus." But he minimized the threat in public. On February 26, he told the public "I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away." pic.twitter.com/TOHTpqYtvZ
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 9, 2020
Trump tells Woodward he played down the threat of the coronavirus.
"I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic."
He also tells Woodward that "plenty of young people" are vulnerable — different from his public message pic.twitter.com/fJZUZtJTIv
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) September 9, 2020