President Donald Trump finds himself in a firestorm over things he said concerning how dangerous the coronavirus was. According to journalist Bob Woodward, Trump admitted that he knew how dangerous the virus was but repeatedly downplayed it to the public.
The sensational revelations by Woodward, known for his key role in exposing Watergate, served as the prelude to the Sept. 15 release of his new book, “Rage.” Trump proved once again that he’s his own worst enemy by granting Woodward no less than 18 wide-ranging interviews between Dec. 5, 2019, and July 21, 2020. Woodward said that on Feb. 7 this year, before the first death from the virus was confirmed, Trump acknowledged that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious and “more deadly than even your strenuous flu” — maybe five times “more deadly” than the flu.
Woodward said Trump’s admission starkly contrasted with his frequent public comments at the time, asserting that the virus was “going to disappear” and “all work out fine.” Woodward said Trump told him on March 19 after he had declared a national emergency because of the virus: “I always wanted to play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.” That’s understandable, but withholding vital information from the public in a national crisis is inexcusable.
If instead of downplaying the situation, Trump had acted decisively in early February with a strict shutdown and a consistent message on wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands, experts believe that thousands of American lives could have been saved, Woodward said. The book also details early warnings Trump was given but often ignored. In a top-secret intelligence briefing on Jan. 28, national security adviser Robert O’Brien gave Trump a “jarring” warning about the virus, telling the president it would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. Trump’s head “popped up,” Woodward writes.
O’Brien’s deputy, Matt Pottinger, agreed, warning Trump the virus could be as bad as the influenza pandemic of 1918, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 Americans. Pottinger advised Trump that asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus was occurring in China and he had been told 50% of those infected showed no symptoms. At that time, less than a dozen coronavirus cases had been reported in the United States. Three days later, Trump restricted travel from China as suggested by his national security team — despite Trump’s later claims that he acted alone on the travel limitations.
Woodward’s revelations provided new fuel for anti-Trump national media — the unofficial wing of the Democrat Party — in its relentless attacks on every action taken by the president to combat this pandemic that continues to claim thousands of American lives every day. The attacks encompass not only the virus but anything Trump does as his enemies in the media seek to bring him down at all costs and prevent his winning re-election in November.
No doubt Trump has his faults — speaking his mind being foremost — but in the case of Woodward’s book Trump supplied the ammunition for his firing squad by failing to take appropriate action early on to stem the tide of the virus and withholding vital information from the public in a time of great national crisis. It may indeed cost him another term.