Sep 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump told Bob Woodward he intentionally played down coronavirus threat


Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump said in March that his approach to the coronavirus pandemic was to "play it down," according to Bob Woodward's new book "Rage," which was obtained ahead of its publication next week by CNN.

Why it matters: Trump's comments during on-the-record interviews with the veteran journalist in February and March contrast deeply with his public comments about the pandemic, as he argued for weeks that the virus would "disappear" and slow-walked economic lockdowns.

  • "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic," Trump added during the March 19 interview.

The state of play: The book details how Trump received an intelligence briefing on Jan. 28 during which national security adviser Robert O'Brien told the president that the coronavirus could be the "biggest national security threat" of his time in office.

  • O'Brien's deputy, Matt Pottinger, warned the president that the outbreak could mirror the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed approximately 50 million people worldwide.
  • Three days later, Trump announced restrictions on travel from China, though maintained a pause on more sweeping actions.

What he said: During their interviews, Trump told Woodward more than was known publicly about the virus' spread and potency at the time.

  • "It goes through the air. 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. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flus," Trump told Woodward on Feb. 7
    • Later that month, Trump stated publicly that the number of U.S. cases "within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero."
  • And on March 7, Trump told Woodward, "Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old, older. Young people too, plenty of young people."
    • His administration has since pushed for the reopening of schools and the president himself has claimed that kids are "almost immune."
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