President Donald Trump was recorded on tape admitting that he clearly knew weeks before the first confirmed COVID-19 death in the United States that the coronavirus was extremely deadly, and that he repeatedly played down and concealed details about the threat publicly, according to the new book “Rage” by legendary journalist Bob Woodward.
Back in April, when America had reached the unthinkable level of 50,000 dead from COVID-19, news broke that Trump had been briefed way back in January on how deadly the coronavirus was but had not acted on that information.
Trump defended his lack of action by saying he had been misled by the CIA briefer, who had, he tweeted, “only spoke of the Virus in a very non-threatening, or matter of fact, manner….”
Trump lied. He knew.
On January 28, at a top secret intelligence briefing, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told Trump that the coronavirus would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. It registered. Trump’s head popped up as O’Brien’s deputy, Matt Pottinger, told Trump it could be as bad as the 1918 pandemic, and that it was spread fast by people who showed no symptoms.
On February 7, just two days after his acquittal in the Senate on the charges of impeachment, Trump picked up the phone and called journalist Bob Woodward, who was surprised to hear the president talk not about the acquittal, but about the new virus. Trump told Woodward: “This is deadly stuff.” He explained that the virus is transmitted by air, and that it was five times more dangerous than “even your strenuous flus.”
And yet, on February 2, Trump had said in a Fox News Channel interview before the Super Bowl that “we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” Trump continued to hold large indoor rallies where he insisted the coronavirus was similar to the flu and that it would soon disappear.
Twenty days after his call to Woodward, he was still telling Americans not to worry and he refused to prepare for the coming crisis. Trump told Woodward that he was not telling Americans the truth because he didn’t want “to create a panic.”
By March 19, Trump told Woodward that COVID-19 was killing young people as well as older folks, although throughout the summer he continued to insist that children should go back to school because they were “almost immune” from the virus. On April 3, Trump said at a briefing: “I said it was going away and it is going away.”
On April 5, he told Woodward “It’s a horrible thing. It’s unbelievable.” On April 13, as he dismissed the need for masks, the president told Woodward “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”
Over the course of 18 interviews, Trump spoke for nine hours to journalist Bob Woodward. He had apparently been angry at his aides for shielding him from Woodward before the journalist published his book “Fury” in 2018, thinking he could charm Woodward into presenting him in a better light, as he had shaped coverage of himself in the tabloids in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s.
Trump also urged senior staff and officials to talk to Woodward, who ended up getting interviews with senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, and former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others.
Apparently, White House aides warned Trump against talking to Woodward, but not only did he do so, he permitted Woodward to record the conversations. So when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany today tried to say that Trump had never tried to downplay the virus, a reporter retorted: “It’s on tape, Kayleigh.”
When this story broke, Trump immediately tried to reassure his base by releasing yet more names of people he would consider for any new Supreme Court seats – the list is now more than 40 people long, and told reporters that perhaps he had misled Americans because he is “a cheerleader for this country.”
Trump defenders were left trying to find someone to blame for the recorded interviews. Apparently, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham helped to persuade Trump to talk to the famous journalist and tonight, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson blamed Graham for the debacle, implying he had deliberately undercut the president.
In his final interview with Woodward on July 21, Trump told him, “The virus has nothing to do with me…. It’s not my fault. It’s — China let the damn virus out.”