US President Donald Trump knew the coronavirus was “deadly” and worse than the flu even as he intentionally misled the US public in February and March about the risks, according to a forthcoming book by American journalist Bob Woodward.
Trump said in a recorded conversation with Woodward he has downplayed the risks of the coronavirus all along because he did not want to cause panic, according to a report in The Washington Post.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump told Woodward in a February 7 telephone call.
“And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu,” Trump said.
“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis, according to the report.
Trump had learned in an intelligence briefing from his national security advisers on January 28 that the virus presented a serious threat, according to Woodward’s book titled Rage and due out on September 15.
“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” Robert O’Brien, the president’s national security adviser, told Trump, according to Woodward, who did 18 one-on-one interviews with the president from December 2019 through July 2020.
“This is going to be the roughest thing you face,” O’Brien told Trump.
After repeated intelligence warnings, Trump downplayed the threat of the virus in public during February and did not sound a public alarm about the risk to the US.
“We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity on February 2.
Critics argue the president’s slow response and failure to develop a national strategy to fight the virus has resulted in more deaths than necessary and continuing economic damage from the pandemic.
The US has suffered more than 190,000 deaths and recorded more than 6.3 million cases of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Trump’s mishandling of the virus hurt him politically. Trump has fallen behind his Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden in public polls because voters see his response to the pandemic as inadequate.
“He knew how deadly it was. It was much more deadly than the flu. … He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months,” Biden said during a campaign event in Warren, Michigan on Wednesday.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: “The president’s own words spell out the devastating truth: Trump was fully aware of the catastrophic nature of the coronavirus but hid the facts and refused to take the threat seriously, leaving our entire country exposed and unprepared.”
News of Woodward’s audio recordings of the president went viral on Wednesday with #TrumpKnew the number one trending hashtag on Twitter worldwide in more than 615,000 tweets, according to the tracking site trends.24.in