“I wanted to always play it down,” he told Woodward on March 19th, according to audio obtained by CNN. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Trump tells Woodward he played down the threat of the coronavirus.
"I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic."
He also tells Woodward that "plenty of young people" are vulnerable — different from his public message pic.twitter.com/fJZUZtJTIv
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) September 9, 2020
Trump also expressed concern that “it’s not just old people” who are impacted by Covid-19, and that “some startling facts came out” about how “plenty of young people” were prone to the virus. In public, however, the president has repeatedly insisted that Covid-19 does not pose any significant risk to young people, especially as he’s advocated for schools to resume in-person instruction this fall. In August, Trump falsely said children are “virtually immune” to the virus, while claiming “it will go away like things go away.”
Trump knew about the danger the virus posed as early as February 7th, as he was publicly minimizing the risk of the disease spreading in the United States and bungling action to stop it. “It’s a very tricky situation,” the president told Woodward before explaining that the virus can be transmitted through the air. “It’s more deadly than … even your strenuous flus. … This is more deadly. This is five percent [mortality rate] versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.”
This is President Trump on tape, on February 7, saying that the coronavirus is "more deadly than your – you know, your, even your strenuous flus." But he minimized the threat in public. On February 26, he told the public "I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away." pic.twitter.com/TOHTpqYtvZ
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 9, 2020
Trump’s comments to Woodward stand in stark contrast to how he has portrayed the threat to the public. Three days after the initial conversation, the president on February 10th dismissed the virus as something that “a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in.” He continued to downplay Covid-19 in the critical weeks that followed, claiming that it was “very much under control” and insisting the number of cases was trending downwards. “It’s going to disappear,” Trump said at the White House on February 27th. “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”
To date, over 6,300,000 Americans have tested positive for Covid-19, nearly 190,000 of which have died.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany attempted to deny Trump ever downplayed the virus. When pressed about the audio released by CNN, McEnany accused reporters of “referencing something he allegedly told Bob Woodward.”
“It’s on tape,” replied Geoff Bennett of NBC News. “It’s on tape, Kayleigh.”