Claim: In early September, journalist Bob Woodward disclosed that Trump told him that he intentionally downplayed COVID-19 to the public.
Rating: This claim is TRUE. CNN released recordings of private conversations between Trump and Woodward, in which Trump explicitly said he wanted to downplay the coronavirus. Trump has since acknowledged making the statements.
From Dec. 2019 to Jul. 2020, Trump participated in 18 wide-ranging interviews with Woodward, a famed journalist, about his book on the president called “Rage.” Woodward recorded the interviews with Trump’s permission, and CNN obtained and released copies of some of the audio ahead of the book’s release.
The recordings show that Trump told Woodward in early February that he knew how deadly the virus was. In another recording in March, he admitted he kept that knowledge hidden from the public. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19, “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.“
The recordings also revealed other things that Trump told Woodward about the pandemic that hugely differed from what he said publicly.
Comparing COVID-19 to the flu: On Feb. 7, Trump acknowledged to Woodward that coronavirus is more deadly than the flu. “It’s also more deadly than your…strenuous flus…This is more deadly,” Trump said on the recordings. But a few weeks later, Trump falsely claimed in a Feb. 26 press briefing that mortality rates are higher for the flu than coronavirus.
Who can get COVID-19: On Mar. 19, Trump told Woodward, “Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old…It’s plenty of young people.” Despite this alleged realization, in public Trump repeatedly asserted that it was predominantly the elderly who had to worry. On May 5, he claimed “children aren’t affected” by the virus.
After these recordings were made public, Trump admitted during a white House briefing on Sep. 9 that he made those statements. “The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy,” Trump said. “We want to show confidence. We want to show strength.”
Conclusion: Based on the recordings that have been released of Trump and his acknowledgement that those recordings were accurate, we believe that he did intentionally downplay the danger of COVID-19 to the American public. To find out how many times Trump downplayed the virus, read this article.