White House insists Trump didn't downplay COVID-19. He told Bob Woodward, 'I wanted to always play it down.'

Kayleigh McEnany
(Image credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump may have admitted that he intentionally downplayed the threat of COVID-19, but that isn't stopping the White House from claiming he didn't.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon took questions from reporters about new revelations from Bob Woodward's upcoming book, Rage, and she insisted in response to one question, "The president never downplayed the virus."

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This is despite the fact that Woodward taped a conversation with Trump from March 19 in which the president admits he did just that, and the audio from the conversation has been publicly released.

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"To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward. "I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic."

Trump also told Woodward in February that COVID-19 is "more deadly than even your strenuous flus," even though he would later compare COVID-19 to the flu.

McEnany on Wednesday argued that Trump did "what leaders do" by expressing "calm" and that he "never lied to the American public." In response, one reporter, pointing to Trump's claims that COVID-19 would disappear, said to McEnany during the briefing, "It's one thing as a public figure not to try to incite panic. It's a very different thing, respectfully, to lie and mislead the American people about a crisis that has claimed nearly 200,000 American lives." Brendan Morrow

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Brendan Morrow

Brendan is a staff writer at The Week. A graduate of Hofstra University with a degree in journalism, he also writes about horror films for Bloody Disgusting and has previously contributed to The Cheat Sheet, Heavy, WhatCulture, and more. He lives in New York City surrounded by Star Wars posters.