‘I Always Wanted to Play It Down’: Trump Admits to Understating COVID Threat to Avoid Creating ‘Panic’

President Trump holds a campaign rally in Winston-Salem, N.C., September 8, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Trump admitted in March that he wanted to publicly downplay the danger posed by the coronavirus in order to avoid creating “panic,” even as he expressed privately that the disease posed a deadly threat, according to a new book on the Trump presidency by Bob Woodward.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward of Watergate fame during a March 19 interview for Woodward’s upcoming book “Rage.”

“I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump continued.

The book, Woodward’s second on the Trump presidency, is scheduled for release on September 15 and is partly based on 18 interviews Woodward did with Trump between December and July.

Just days before Trump’s remarks, the president had declared a national emergency on March 13 in order to free up $50 billion in federal resources to combat the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, which was quickly worsening.

In late January, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien had warned the president that the coronavirus would be “the roughest thing you face.”

“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” O’Brien told Trump, according to Woodward’s book.

Trump also admitted to Woodward that he knew in early February, weeks before the first confirmed U.S. coronavirus death was reported in the Seattle area later that month, that the pathogen was highly contagious and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a February 7 interview with Woodward. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

“This is deadly stuff,” Trump added.

Nevertheless, several weeks later on February 28, Trump was still assuring the American public that, “one day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” referring to the coronavirus outbreak.

By March 19, the U.S. had more than 14,000 positive cases of the coronavirus, and 187 people had died.