President Donald Trump admitted that he wanted to publicly downplay the threat of the coronavirus even as his advisors warned him about the dangers of the disease, Bob Woodward wrote in his forthcoming book about the Trump administration, multiple outlets reported Wednesday.
"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward in mid-March, CNN reported. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
CNN, which also published audio of Woodward's March 19 interview with the president, reported Woodward writing that Trump had been informed weeks before Covid-19 claimed its first lives in the U.S. that the virus was dangerous and highly contagious.
Less than three weeks before that interview reportedly took place, Trump had assured that the virus would "disappear."
"One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear," Trump said in public remarks on Feb. 28.
But the president had already been told in late January by national security advisor Robert O'Brien that the coronavirus "will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency," Woodward wrote in the book, according to a separate report from The Washington Post.
Despite a tape of the president saying he downplayed the coronavirus — and despite him saying on that tape that he still likes "playing it down" — White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing later Wednesday that Trump "never downplayed the virus."
Rather, McEnany claimed, the president "was expressing calm" and "embodied the American spirit" of unity in the face of the pandemic. "He has always taken it seriously," she insisted.
Despite his frequent claims that the disease would simply "go away" or "disappear," Trump reportedly told Woodward in a Feb. 7 phone call that he understood the virus was "more deadly than even your strenuous flu."
Yet later that same month, Trump said publicly that "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 U.S. has now reported more infections and deaths from Covid-19 than any other country on the planet: More than 6.32 million cases and at least 189,600 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"Rage," Woodward's second book on Trump's presidency, is due out Sept. 15. The book is based in part on 18 interviews Woodward conducted with Trump between December and July, the Post reported.
Like "Fear," Woodward's last tell-all on the Trump White House, much of the reporting in "Rage" was gathered from "deep background" interviews with unnamed sources.
Trump and his surrogates have long decried the use of anonymous sources by journalists. Most recently, a slew of administration officials denounced reporting from The Atlantic — later matched by The Associated Press and Fox News — that while in office Trump referred to fallen U.S. service members as "suckers" and "losers."