Trump says downplaying coronavirus threat showed 'strength as a leader'

Donald Trump.
(Image credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

President Trump on Thursday defended comments he made to journalist Bob Woodward about the coronavirus, telling reporters at the White House that if what he said was "so bad," Woodward "should have immediately gone out publicly" and alerted "the authorities."

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For his new book, Rage, Woodward interviewed Trump 18 times. In February and March, Trump privately told Woodward the airborne virus was deadlier than "the most strenuous flu," but he wanted to "play it down" so he wouldn't "create a panic." Publicly, Trump said the coronavirus was "just like the flu," and it was "very much under control."

Jonathan Karl of ABC News asked Trump, "Why did you lie to the American people and why should we trust what you have to say now?" Trump shot back, "That's a terrible question and the phraseology. I didn't lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can't be panicked."

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Karl pushed back, noting that Trump said one thing to Woodward — the coronavirus was "deadly stuff," for example — while telling Americans it was a hoax that would disappear "like a miracle."

"Listen," Trump said. "What I went out and said was very simple. I want to show a level of confidence, and I want to show strength as a leader. I want to show our country will be fine one way or the other whether we lose one person — we shouldn't lose any. This shouldn't have happened. This is China's fault. Nobody's fault but China. I don't want to jump up and down and start screaming, 'Death! Death!' Because that's not what it's about. We have to lead a country. We're leading a great country. We're doing a great job."

The coronavirus death toll in the United States is nearing 200,000, but Trump struck an optimistic tone, saying he believes that "we're rounding the corner and the vaccines are right there. We're rounding the final turn."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.