President Donald Trump knew way back in January exactly how serious the threat Covid-19 posed to the US was, but always wanted to “play it down”, according to a forthcoming book by legendary investigative journalist Bob Woodward.
“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Trump during an Oval Office meeting on January 28, Woodward writes in the book, Rage, according to The Washington Post, where Woodward works as an associate editor. “This is going to be the roughest thing you face,” O’Brien had added.
Ten days later, Trump called Woodward and said in an on-record interview: “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.”
“And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu,” he said in the interview, which was released on Wednesday and aired by news channels. “This is deadly stuff.”
But the president conveyed an altogether different message to the American public then, as he does now. He had said that the threat to the US from the coronavirus was ephemeral and will somehow be over magically.
“I wanted to always play it down,” the president told Woodward in another interview on March 19.
Trump is battling continuing criticism of his handling of the pandemic, with allegations that he deliberately downplayed it and ignored advice of his health experts so as to not negatively impact his re-election chances. His administration’s response has polled poorly with Americans as well.
But the president has fought back, claiming he did well by shutting down the country from travellers from China early, ramping up production of ventilators and protective gear for health care personnel.
Woodward’s book is based on several on-record interviews with the president, and will join a growing collection of accounts scrutinising Trump’s character and performance in office in the weeks near the November 3 elections.
It covers the president’s response to the anti-racism unrest, meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and many other issues.