President Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that he downplayed the novel coronavirus earlier this year, arguing that he wanted to “reduce panic” about the spreading airborne virus by publicly minimizing its threat to the American people.
Trump’s remarks to reporters came as he faced renewed scrutiny over his handling of the pandemic following the release of bombshell audio recordings of his interviews with Bob Woodward for the journalist’s new book.
Trump tells Woodward that he “wanted to always play [the virus] down” to avoid creating a panic.
But the president was privately aware of the threat of the virus as early as February, before it was known to be widespread in the U.S.
“It goes through the air,” Trump said of COVID-19 on Feb. 7, according to audio published by CNN. “That’s always tougher than 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 even your strenuous flus.”
“If you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that’s so,” Trump said Wednesday afternoon when asked if he downplayed the virus or misled the public to avoid panic.
“The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country,” Trump continued. “I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.”
“We want to show confidence. We want to show strength. We want to show strength as a nation,” he added.
"I'm a cheerleader for this country … I don't want people to be frightened" — Trump tries to explain why he misled the public about how bad coronavirus is pic.twitter.com/xUBnoVpHSN
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 9, 2020
Trump did not challenge the idea that his efforts to downplay the threat of the virus was part of an intentional strategy.
“We don’t want to have to show panic. We’re not going to show panic, and that’s exactly what I did,” he said. “And I was very open, whether it’s to Woodward or anybody else — it’s just another political hit job — but whether it was Woodward or anybody else, you cannot show a sense of panic or you’re going to have bigger than you ever had before.”