Updated Sep 13, 2020 - Health

Trump to Woodward: "Nothing more could have been done" on coronavirus

Journalist Bob Woodward opened up to CBS' News' "60 Minutes" in an interview airing Sunday on the moment in August when President Trump told him, "nothing more could have been done" on the coronavirus.

Driving the news: Trump made the remarks, recorded by Woodward and broadcast by CBS, during one of their final interviews, as the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 was surging. "Does he remember what he told me, back in February, about it's more deadly than the flu?" Woodward said, in reference to an earlier interview with Trump on the virus' dangers.

  • "[I]t almost took my breath away, that there was such certainty, when he was absolutely wrong about the issue that defines the position of this country right now."
  • Woodward said it was a "tragedy" that Trump sought to downplay the virus threat.
  • "The president of the United States has a duty to warn. The public will understand that," he said. "But if they get the feeling that they're not getting the truth, then you’re going down the path of deceit and cover up."

Of note: In the interview, Woodward told CBS journalist Scott Pelley that he was present "before the virus was on anyone's radar" when National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told the president on Jan. 28, "This virus will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency."

  • Asked what Trump's reaction to O'Brien's remarks was, Woodward said the president's "head popped up and he asked questions" as his advisers had a difference of opinion on the matter, including that COVID-19 would be "no worse" than SARS in 2003, when there were only eight known cases.
  • But Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger, who'd been a reporter in China, said his contacts in the country told him, "This is going to be like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in this country."
"It was a stunning moment in the Trump presidency and, I think, in American history. Because [Trump] then went on to publicly dismiss the virus. And he knew, that this was a pandemic coming."
— Woodward

What else he's saying: Pelley noted that some of the legendary journalist's fans might be disappointed that he reaches an "editorial conclusion" at the end of his book, "Rage," on the president:

WOODWARD: "Yes. I say the president is the wrong man for the job.
PELLEY: "But, you're known as the reporter who doesn't put his thumb on the scale. And yet, at the end of this book, you do just that.
WOODWARD: "It's a conclusion based on evidence, overwhelming evidence, that he could not rise to the occasion with the virus and tell the truth. And one of the things that President Trump told me, 'In the presidency, there's always dynamite behind the door.'
"The real dynamite is President Trump. He is the dynamite."

The other side: Trump told Fox News in an interview broadcast Wednesday that he downplayed the virus' threat because he wanted to "show a calmness."

  • He said Woodward "does hit jobs with everybody," including his predecessor, former President Obama. "So, I figured, you know let's just give it a little shot. I'll speak to him, wasn't a big deal," Trump added.
  • "I don't know if the book is good or bad — I have no idea. [I] probably, almost definitely, won't read it because I don't have time to read it."

Go deeper: Why Trump talked to Woodward

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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