The coronavirus is "deadly stuff," President Trump told Bob Woodward in a Feb. 7 phone call, recounting a conversation with China's President Xi Jinping. "I think [Xi's] going to have it in good shape," he begins but allows that it's a "very tricky situation." Trump tells Woodward "you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed, and so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than ... even your strenuous flus." It was not information the president chose to share with the American people at the time. For weeks after the conversation, Trump continued to downplay the threat and insist that the virus was no worse than season flu, reports the Washington Post, which posted clips of those recordings. Woodward, a Post associate editor, interviewed Trump on-the-record 18 times for his new book Rage, which comes out next week.
In a March 19 interview, Trump admitted downplaying the seriousness of the virus to avoid causing "panic." "I wanted to always play it down," he told Woodward. "I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic." Joe Biden slammed Trump over the report Wednesday, per the New York Times. "He knew and purposely played it down,” Biden said during a speech in Michigan. "Worse, he lied to the American people.” Politico reports that following the release of the interview excerpts, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany maintained "the president never downplayed the virus." She told reporters Wednesday that Trump "does what leaders do" and that "when you’re facing insurmountable challenges, it’s important to express confidence." Trump "has never lied to the American public on COVID," she said. (Read more coronavirus stories.)