Published: 17:27, September 11, 2020 | Updated: 17:34, June 5, 2023
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Trump admits downplaying danger of virus
By Ai Heping

US President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Aug 27, 2020, in Washington. (ALEX BRANDON / AP)

US President Donald Trump admitted to journalist Bob Woodward in March that he publicly downplayed the dangers of the novel coronavirus as it spread around the world, hoping to avoid a panic even as he recognized how "deadly" the virus could be.

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward on March 19, CNN and The Washington Post reported on Wednesday."I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

Trump had acknowledged to Woodward more than a month before that interview that he recognized COVID-19 was "deadly stuff", according to CNN, in contrast with the president's public assertions the virus would "work out fine" and was "very much under control".

Trump had acknowledged to Woodward more than a month before that interview that he recognized COVID-19 was "deadly stuff", according to CNN

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Woodward interviewed and taped the president for a total of nine hours for his book, Rage, which will be released on Sept 15. Audio clips of the recorded interviews were published by CNN and the Post. Woodward is an associate editor at the newspaper. Some of the interviews were conducted at the White House; Woodward said others were done when Trump called his cellphone.

Trump on Wednesday didn't deny what he told Woodward and defended his rosy public assessments on the virus as part of a possible effort not to "create panic". But he called the book "just another hatchet job".

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted at a news conference on Wednesday that the president "never lied to the American public on COVID-19"but rather "was expressing calm".She said that Trump "never downplayed the virus" despite Trump's remarks to Woodward.

Democrats on Wednesday quickly pounced on Trump's comments about the coronavirus.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Trump "knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months".

"While this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose," the former vice-president said during an event in Warren, Michigan. "It was a life and death betrayal of the American people."

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president's comments to Woodward showed weakness and a disdain for science.

"What he was actually saying is,'I don't want anybody to think anything like this happened on my watch so I'm not going to call any more attention to it'," Pelosi said.

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Angry Schumer

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: "There is damning truth that President Trump lied and people died. It just makes me angry. How many people would be alive today if he just told Americans the truth?"

The Associated Press reported that several Republican senators at the Capitol declined to comment on the new book, telling reporters they hadn't yet read it, even when informed of key passages about the virus.

Woodward writes that National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien warned Trump in a briefing on Jan 28 that the virus was the "biggest national security threat you face in your presidency".

Trump later told Woodward that he didn't remember O'Brien's comment."I'm sure if he said it-you know, I'm sure he said it. Nice guy,"Trump told Woodward in a May 6 interview.

On March 25, about a week after admitting in the interview to downplaying the virus threat, Trump told reporters at the White House that no one could have foreseen the pandemic, which had by that time led to much of the US economy being shut down.

"Nobody would ever believe a thing like that's possible," he said at a White House new conference."Nobody could have ever seen something like this coming, but now we know, and we know it can happen and happen again."