Following the release of damning quotes he reportedly gave to journalist Bob Woodward, President Donald Trump defended his decision to play down the coronavirus as it spread throughout the country.
At a press conference Wednesday, Trump did not deny the remarks he made as quoted by Woodward. Instead, he said that he didn’t want to cause panic in the country after learning how deadly COVID-19 really was.
When a reporter asked if Trump had misled the country about the virus to reduce panic, Trump said: “If you said ‘in order to reduce panic,’ perhaps that’s so.”
“I’m a cheerleader for this country,” Trump continued. “I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic.”
Excerpts of Woodward’s interviews with Trump were made public on Wednesday, revealing that the president was aware of the deadly threat that the coronavirus posed to the U.S. weeks before the country saw its first confirmed virus-linked death in Washington state.
As of Wednesday, the U.S. had reported at least 175,866 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. John Hopkins University tallied the U.S. death toll at 189,653.
“Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy,” Trump said Wednesday, defending the comments he made to Woodward. “We want to show strength as a nation.”
The president continued by commending the White House’s response to the pandemic: “The job we’ve done has been incredible.
“But we don’t want to instill panic,” he added. “We don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem, scare everybody.”
Without denying what he said, Trump then called the scoop by Woodward a “just another political hit job.”
According to Woodward, Trump knew how deadly the virus was as early as Feb. 7, when he told the investigative journalist that COVID-19 could be transmitted through the air and described the virus as “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
However, Trump and his administration understated the threat of the virus in public in the following months, even as case numbers and deaths climbed in hot spots around the U.S.
On Feb. 24, Trump maintained that the U.S. had “it very much under control in this country.” On March 10, he claimed that the virus would just “go away” and repeated that again in late April, saying “this is going to go away” and “we’re very prepared to handle it” if the virus returned in the fall.
Despite knowing the virus could be contracted through the air, Trump also held his first summer campaign rally in June and continues to hold in-person rallies as the 2020 election draws near.
When a reporter asked Trump on Wednesday whether he thinks he could have saved more lives if he was more “forthcoming” about the risk of the virus, Trump said that “millions of people” would have died “if we didn’t do what we did.”
“We closed up our country ... very quickly, very effectively,” Trump said, noting that the U.S. learned about the disease along with the rest of the world.
“And then we opened it up,” he said of the U.S. economy. “And now we know the vulnerable, who it attacks, who it’s so vicious against.”
“I think we’ve done, from every standpoint, an incredible job. We shouldn’t have lost anybody,” Trump added, before blaming the spread of the virus in the U.S. on China.