In interviews with star journalist Bob Woodward, Trump said he had deliberately downplayed the risk of Covid-19. Now there is criticism.
Almost two months before the election in the US, President Donald Trump put himself in distress by admitting that he had downplayed the corona risk. Trump said in his defense in Washington on Wednesday (local time) that he wanted to avoid panic and show leadership.
Previously, recordings from interviews published for the first time at the beginning of the pandemic had made the president difficult to explain. Trump had given the interviews to the well-known investigative journalist Bob Woodward for a new book. In a recording from March 19, Trump can be heard after the introduction, “To be honest, Bob” about the coronavirus situation: “I always wanted to downplay it. I still like to downplay it because I don’t want to panic.”
In a conversation on February 7th, according to the recordings, Trump said about the virus: “This is deadly stuff.” People don’t have to touch contact surfaces to become infected: “You just breathe air, and that’s how it is transmitted. The disease is also “deadlier” than severe flu, which kills 25,000 to 30,000 Americans each year. On Wednesday, the number of corona deaths in the United States exceeded the 190,000 mark.
The Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden accused Trump of “almost criminal” behavior in the corona crisis. The 77-year-old told CNN in an interview published in advance on Wednesday evening that Trump’s behavior was “disgusting”. During an appearance in Michigan, Biden criticized Trump lying to the American people about the virus and killing people as a result. “While the deadly disease tore our country apart, he didn’t do his job – on purpose,” Biden said. “He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. ”
The Democratic minority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, referred to the more than 190,000 corona infected people who died in the United States. “That just makes me angry,” he said. “How many people would be alive today if he had just told Americans the truth?” House chairwoman Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s statements showed the president’s weakness.
Trump said on Fox News on Wednesday evening: “I’m a cheerleader for this country and I don’t want to see panic.” As President, he has a special responsibility: “I’m the leader of this country, I can’t jump up and down and that Frighten people.” He emphasized that he had issued an entry ban for travelers from China and the EU at an early stage, which had saved many lives. Trump also praised his administration’s crisis management. “We did an incredible job.”
His spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany asserted that Trump never downplayed the virus. “The president has never lied to the American public about Covid-19,” she said.
Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, Trump had repeatedly compared Covid-19 diseases with flu. He also publicly claimed that the death rate was lower than that of the flu – and held several campaign events with thousands of supporters in the spring. He repeatedly promised that one day the virus would simply go away again.
Bob Woodward has enjoyed legendary status in US journalism since he and colleague Carl Bernstein played a pivotal role in exposing the Watergate scandal that cost President Richard Nixon the job in 1974. According to his own account, he conducted 18 interviews with Trump for his new book “Rage” and received several calls from Trump. The broadcaster CNN quoted on Wednesday in advance from the book to be published next week and also published short audio recordings from the interviews.
You can hear, for example, how Woodward, in view of the protests against racism and police violence against African Americans, wants to know from Trump whether Trump is also thinking about his privileged position as a white man. “No, I don’t feel that at all,” replied Trump in the recording. The protests play a major role in the US election campaign.
One of the details from the book that has become known so far is that Trump spoke of a unique and top-secret weapon system in his interviews with Woodward. The journalist then tried, according to his own account, to obtain further information from his sources – they were surprised that Trump had even said about it.
Colleagues accused Woodward of only now going public with Trump’s statements so that his book would sell better a few weeks before the election. Woodward told the AP news agency that he had to check Trump’s statements. Trump kept telling things that did not stand up to research. That’s why he initially asked himself the same question as he had asked himself as a reporter for the Washington Post in President Richard Nixon’s Watergate affair: “What did he know and when did he know it?”
Woodward said that when he found out in May that Trump had relied on reliable information in his interview statements about the virus, the pandemic had already spread across the United States. “If I had brought the story back then about what he knew in February, it wouldn’t have told us anything we didn’t already know,” said Woodward. The matter was no longer a public health issue, but a political issue. That’s why he focused on getting his book out before the election date.