As early as January of this year, President Trump knew about the severity of the coronavirus, including its airborne nature, its effect on young people and how much worse it was than a seasonal flu. All of this and more is revealed in a new book by Washington Post icon Bob Woodward.
While it may be easy to pass off the new revelations, to be printed in-full in Woodward’s upcoming book Rage, the journalist who was once instrumental in cracking open the Watergate scandal can back up his narrative with recorded conversations with President Trump himself. That’s because, annoyed that he was not interviewed for Woodward’s previous Trump tell-all, the President availed himself to the journalist for a series of eighteen in-person and over-the-phone interviews, which he allowed Woodward to record.
Now, the audio from several of Woodward’s interviews with the President are monopolizing the news cycle, putting the White House on the defensive once again. This comes as the campaign makes its final pitch for a second term for a president who has, by-and-large, failed to protect the nation from the wrath of COVID-19. Here are some of the most striking revelations from Woodward’s reporting.
January 28 – “Biggest National Security Threat”
According to Woodward’s reporting, on January 28, 2020, national security adviser Robert O’Brien told President Trump that the coronavirus could be “the biggest national security threat to your presidency.” But in May, Woodward asked Trump whether he remembered the conversation, and Trump averred.
“No, no, no, I don’t. No, I don’t,” Trump says in the recorded interview. “I’m sure if he said it – you know, I’m sure he said it. Nice guy.”
February 7 – “This is deadly stuff”
By the beginning of February, Trump had learned just how dangerous the coronavirus was, and detailed some of the viruses peculiarities to Woodward. Among the details, Trump told the journalist that the virus could travel through air, and that it was about five times deadlier than typical, seasonal flu. Trump said the following on tape:
It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, 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 your – you know, your, even your strenuous flus. You know, people don’t realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?
Moments later, the President added:
This is more deadly. This is five per- you know, this is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.
Public Comments in February
All of this is in stark contrast with Trump’s public comments at the time. In fact, throughout the month of February, Trump downplayed the threat of the virus.
On February 10, Trump made the following public statement from the White House:
Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do — you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape, though. We have 12 cases, 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.
By February 26, he was already congratulating himself on vanquishing the threat. At a news conference he said:
When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.
The next day, February 27, Trump said publicly:
It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.
March 19 – “It’s not just old people”
By mid-March, Trump was publicly insisting that the virus “will go away,” and continued to compare it to the seasonal flu. But in conversation with Woodward, he revealed that the coronavirus was as dangerous against young people as it was against the elderly:
Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old- older. Young people too, plenty of young people.
Months later, however, on August 5, Trump was pushing students to return to school, claiming that they could not get sick from COVID-19. On Fox News he stated:
If you look at children, children are almost, I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease.
Still, back in March, Woodward asked Trump about when he realized that the pandemic was a significant threat. Trump replies that he knew all along. He just didn’t want to cause a frenzy among the public:
I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.
Experts now say that, had the nation braced for a public health crisis in early February, tens of thousands of lives could have been spared. Moreover, the states would have had time to procure personal protective equipment for medical professionals, and authorities would have been able to properly educate the public about the virus.
As a result of the President’s public position on the virus, many Americans simply did not take the threat seriously. And as officials rolled out measures like social-distancing and mask-wearing, wide-scale skepticism continued to pervade. Had Trump been straight with the American people from the moment he learned of the threat, we could have prevented it from getting so out of hand.
By April, Trump was demanding that the economy reopen. By August, he was threatening to cut off funding from any school that did not let students return. And yet, he knew the threat that all of these measures presented, long before he proposed them. But instead of addressing the problem head-on, his tactic remained to deny.