Follow the tapes, not the tweets.
U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledged back in March that he was deliberately playing down the threat of COVID-19, even as he publicly claimed that the coronavirus would “disappear” several times over the following days, weeks and months.
“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told veteran journalist Bob Woodward in an interview recorded on March 19.
Trump also acknowledged that he knew in March that the virus was a threat to different age groups, though he has publicly claimed children were “virtually immune” as recently as August.
“Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday some startling facts came out… Young people too, plenty of young people,” he says in the recording.
The recordings emerged on Wednesday as the U.S. approached 190,000 deaths from the coronavirus — more than any other nation in the world.
“This is deadly stuff,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 interview with Woodward.
He described the virus during that chat as “more deadly than … even your strenuous flus.”
Trump downplayed the threat of the virus by comparing it to flu statistics in the days following that interview.
“It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year,” Trump wrote in a tweet on March 9. “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!”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Wednesday that “the president has never lied to the American public on COVID.”
“The president was expressing calm and his actions reflect that.”
Trump has repeatedly claimed throughout the pandemic that the virus will “disappear” while pushing his own guesses about how it might be cured. He has also frequently claimed credit for various successes while blaming others — especially Democratic mayors and governors — for any failures.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump said on March 13, when asked about the country’s slow roll-out of coronavirus testing at the time.
The president echoed that sentiment in his last interview with Woodward in July.
“The virus has nothing to do with me,” he told Woodward. “It’s not my fault. It’s — China let the damn virus out.”
Trump’s critics blasted him on Twitter after the tapes emerged on Wednesday, with many sharing their anger under the hashtag “Trump Knew.”
“He knew,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, tweeted. “He dawdled and denied. Now we are all paying the price.”
The president revealed in January that he had agreed to speak to Woodward for the followup. He also described Woodward as a “very, very good writer, reporter,” at the time.
It’s the second not-so-private revelation to shake Trump’s re-election campaign in recent days after multiple sources accused him of calling fallen soldiers “losers” and “suckers” in 2018. These latest comments, however, have actually been captured on tape.
“He failed to do his job on purpose,” Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, said on Wednesday. “It was a life and death betrayal of the American people.”
Trump did not immediately address the recordings on Twitter Wednesday. Instead, he announced a news conference at which he would tease his wish list of potential Supreme Court nominees.
The president’s allies responded to the news by sharing clips from a Fox News interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease doctor on the White House coronavirus task force.
Fauci told Fox on Wednesday that he didn’t recall saying that Trump has a “minus” attention span.
He also responded to questions about Trump’s remarks about downplaying the virus.
“Did you get a sense that he was or wasn’t playing this down?” Fox’s John Roberts asked.
“No, no no, I didn’t. I didn’t get any sense that he was distorting anything,” Fauci said. “In my discussions with him they were always straightforward about the concerns that we had.”
Fauci added that it “may have happened but I have not seen that kind of distortion.”
Fox did not play the audio of Trump saying “I wanted to always play it down” during the interview.
“I’m a cheerleader for this country,” Trump said on Wednesday afternoon, when asked about his remarks.
“We want to show confidence. We want to show strength, and that’s what I’ve done. We’ve done very well.”
Trump then described the U.S. numbers as “amazing” compared to other countries.
“We don’t want to instill panic,” he added.