Trump's America

Trump Admitted Downplaying COVID-19 Despite Knowing It Was "Deadly," Bombshell Audio Reveals

In new audio released from interviews between President Trump and journalist Bob Woodward, Trump said he knew as early as Feb. 7 how deadly and highly contagious COVID-19 was. In March, Trump said, “I wanted to always play it down.”

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House on August 14, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House on August 14, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In bombshell newly released audio, President Trump can be heard telling journalist Bob Woodward on February 7 that he knew COVID-19 was deadlier than the flu and primarily spread by air—and that he intentionally downplayed the danger of the virus to the American people. 

“It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch,” Trump said in the recording, published Wednesday by both The Washington Post where Woodward is a columnist, as well as CNN. Speaking of how easily contagious the coronavirus is on February 7, when it had already spread from China to at least 15 countries and there were a dozen confirmed cases in the U.S., the president said, “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.”

Trump continued: “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?”

The comments came two days after the GOP-led Senate acquitted Trump on his impeachment charges. About a month later, Trump tweeted stats about the flu as proof that COVID-19 wasn’t as deadly.

Wednesday marked the 6-month anniversary of that Trump tweet, which many on Twitter were already sharing with the current death toll and the phrase, “think about that.” Nearly 190,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 as of Sept. 8, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

In the Feb. 7 audio, Trump also said of COVID-19 as compared to the flu, “This [coronavirus] is more deadly. … This is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.” As the Post noted, “It would be several weeks before he would publicly acknowledge that the virus was no ordinary flu and that it could be transmitted through the air.”

Multiple studies by public health experts have concluded that if the U.S. had started social distancing and emphasizing mask use earlier—even just one week earlier—tens of thousands of lives could have been saved. Though Trump knew in early February of the deadly, highly contagious, airborne nature of COVID-19, he continued to downplay it in public statements and press conferences for months. He refused to appear in public wearing a mask until four months into the pandemic.

The new revelations paint an even more damning picture of an inept administration response, intentional lying from the president to the American public, and his continuing deflection of blame, even though America has the highest COVID-19 death toll in the world.

Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” comes out September 15, but CNN obtained a copy of the book as well as audio of some of the Trump-Woodward tapes and published them Wednesday along with The Post. Trump sat for 18 on-the-record interviews with Woodward from December 5, 2019 to July 21, 2020, recorded with his permission and knowledge, according to both outlets.

Woodward also conducted interviews with current and former administration officials and aides. According to his reporting, Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien told the president in a January 28 intelligence briefing that COVID-19 would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. Trump told Woodward in May that he didn’t recall that warning.

In a March 19 recording, just a few days after Trump finally declared a national emergency over the outbreak, the president told Woodward, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” This aligns with what Trump has said publicly about slowing down testing, which would create a false impression of lower infection rates.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden slammed Trump over the new audio on Wednesday, calling it a “life and death betrayal of the American people.”

“On the day that we hit 190,000 people dead in the United States, we’ve just learned … that the president admitted on tape in February that he knew that COVID-19 passes through the air. He know how much more deadly it was than the flu. He knew and he purposefully downplayed it,” Biden said at a campaign stop in Michigan.

He continued: “Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to our country. For months. He had the information. He knew. And while a deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job — on purpose. … It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction and a disgrace.”

Other revelations in “Rage” include what many top officials think about Trump’s ability to do the job of the president, including infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has played a leading role in guiding public health during the pandemic. In an echo of what Biden said about Trump misleading the public “on purpose,” Woodward quotes Dr. Fauci as saying: “His sole purpose is to get re-elected.”

Fauci also said that Trump’s “attention span is like a minus number.”

Related: Dr. Fauci: We're "Knee-Deep" In The Coronavirus Pandemic, And Trump Isn't Talking To Me

At the Biden event, held at a United Auto Workers hall in Warren, Michigan, the former vice president also emphasized that America is in “a recession created by Donald Trump’s negligence, and unfitness for this job.”

“His failure to act not only cost lives,” Biden said, “it sent our economy into tailspin that cost millions more Americans their livelihoods.” More than 13 million Americans are unemployed, according to recent stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

CNN’s report noted that the U.S. “became the country with the most confirmed cases in the world” in April—and still at that point, “Trump’s public statements contradicted his acknowledgements to Woodward.”

At an April 3 press briefing, Trump said, “I said it’s going away and it is going away.” But two days later, Trump told Woodward, “It’s a horrible thing. It’s unbelievable.” On April 13, he told Woodward, “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”

The longtime journalist is also facing intense scrutiny for not releasing the audio sooner, as many argue it could have saved lives.

Shortly after the audio was published Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany held a briefing where she attempted to deny the story, despite the fact that Trump’s words are now publicly available via the recordings.

Other revelations from the Woodward book as reported by both The Post and CNN include Trump downplaying the validity of the Black Lives Matter movement (“you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you,” Trump said to Woodward when he asked about understanding the anger and pain of Black people); Trump calling military generals “pussies”; and 27 “love letters” exchanged between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which have not been published before. The letters are “filled with flowery language,” according to CNN, and Kim at one point wrote to Trump that the “deep and special friendship between us will work as a magical force.” Trump also told Woodward that Kim thought President Obama was an “asshole.”

Alarmingly, Trump told Woodward, “I have built a nuclear — a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. … We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before.”

According to The Post, “Woodward writes that anonymous people later confirmed that the U.S. military had a secret new weapons system, but they would not provide details, and that the sources were surprised Trump had disclosed it.”

Both the Post and the CNN wrote that in Trump’s final interview with Woodward, recorded in July, he said: “The virus has nothing to do with me. It’s not my fault. It’s — China let the damn virus out.”