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Tapes Show Trump Knew Coronavirus Was Deadly While Downplaying the Risk in Public

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Tapes Show Trump Knew Coronavirus Was Deadly While Downplaying the Risk in Public
Trump departs from a Senate Republicans luncheon on Capitol Hill on March 10, 2020. Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

President Trump admitted to downplaying the risk of the coronavirus after tapes were released of him acknowledging the dangers to journalist Bob Woodward. The tapes from February and March for Woodward's new book "Rage" show that the president's private conversations stood in stark contrast to what he was telling the public, as The New York Times reported.


The released tapes fueled outrage as they show a president clearly aware that the virus was extremely dangerous, but intentionally downplaying its risk and holding gatherings where people stood in close proximity to each other. Now that the virus has killed nearly 190,000 Americans and nearly 900,000 people worldwide, critics are questioning why Trump deceived the public about the virus' spread.

As The Washington Post reported, in a tape from a phone call on Feb. 7, Trump said, "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."

For emphasis, he added, "This is deadly stuff."

Trump then held several interviews with the news media where he said the U.S. had the virus under control. On a March 19 call with Woodward, Trump admitted to downplaying the virus as well.

"I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down," Trump said on tape, as POLITICO reported. "Because I don't want to create a panic."

Trump was asked Wednesday about his decision and was reminded that the virus' death toll is near 200,000 in the U.S.

"Well, I think if you said 'in order to reduce panic,' perhaps that's so," Trump said, as Yahoo News reported. "The fact is I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country, and I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic, 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."

Democrats swiftly noted that other world leaders were less concerned about being a cheerleader and took decisive, preemptive actions to reduce the risk of transmission.

"He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months," Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said in front of the United Auto Workers training facility in Michigan Wednesday, as The Washington Post reported.

The timeline of Trump's actions shows a pattern of deception well after he knew the virus was airborne and far more deadly than the flu. And yet, weeks after admitting that to Woodward, Trump said to reporters at the end of February, "It's a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we'll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner."

And then on Feb. 28, at a rally in South Carolina, Trump dismissed the virus as the Democrats' "new hoax."

Even though Trump tells Woodward on the tapes that he intentionally played down the virus because he didn't want to create a panic, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, told reporters with a straight face Wednesday that the president had not deceived the American public at all about the coronavirus.

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