US President Donald Trump admits he tried to minimise the seriousness of the threat from Covid-19 at the outset of the pandemic in audio recordings released from interviews with veteran journalist Bob Woodward.

US President Donald Trump admits he tried to minimise the seriousness of the threat from Covid-19 at the outset of the pandemic in audio recordings released from interviews with veteran journalist Bob Woodward.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Mr Trump said in an interview with Mr Woodward on 19 March, according to a CNN preview of the book “Rage,” due to be published next week.
“I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” he said in the conversation with Mr Woodward, which was recorded.
In another recorded interview, on 7 February, he told Mr Woodward the virus “goes through the air” – despite repeatedly mocking people who wear masks in the weeks and months after. It took until July before he was seen publicly wearing a mask.
Coming eight weeks before the 3 November presidential election, the revelations add new pressure on Mr Trump. Opinion polls show around two-thirds of Americans disapprove of his handling of the virus and he has often been accused of minimising the crisis in order to try and boost his re-election chances.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr Trump denounced the book as “another political hit job” and said if he had downplayed Covid-19 it was to prevent a “frenzy.”
“I don’t want people to be frightened,” he said.
“I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy,” he said. “We have to show leadership and the last thing you want to do is create a panic.”
He slammed Mr Woodward for doing “hit jobs with everybody” and said he “probably, almost definitely won’t read it because I don’t have time to read it”.
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However, “Rage” will give fresh ammunition to the Democrats arguing that Mr Trump failed to prepare Americans for the severity of the coronavirus outbreak or to lead them into a proper response.
In the interviews with Mr Woodward, Mr Trump made clear he would have understood at the outset that the virus was “deadly stuff” – far more dangerous than the ordinary flu.
In public, however, Mr Trump repeatedly told Americans during the initial weeks at the start of 2020 that the virus wasn’t dangerous and would “disappear” by itself.
“He knew how deadly it was,” Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden said while campaigning in Michigan. “He lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”
“It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” Mr Biden added.
“It’s disgusting,” Mr Biden later told CNN. “Think about it. Think about what he did not do.”
Mr Biden slammed Mr Trump’s behaviour as “almost criminal.”
But there was support for Mr Trump from the highly respected infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, who has consistently told the public that the coronavirus requires a tough response – even when the president appeared to be saying something different.
“I don’t recall anything that was any gross distortion in things that I spoke to him about,” he told Fox News.
Mr Trump was keen to stop the country from getting “down and out,” Mr Fauci said.
The president has repeatedly insisted that he has successfully managed the Covid-19 pandemic, which is on track to take 200,000 lives in the country.
He points to early decisions to ban travel from China, where the virus first appeared, and from hotspots in Europe.
However, at minimum Mr Trump delivered mixed messages at a time when the country was looking for guidance.
He veered from declaring himself the equivalent of a war-time president to contradicting government scientists and calling for early reopening of the economy.