Donald Trump disputes own admission he downplayed Covid pandemic


Donald Trump falsely claimed he did not downplay the coronavirus pandemic at a town hall Tuesday night, saying, “Actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action.”

His remarks came in response to an uncommitted voter at the ABC News event, who asked Trump why he would “downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities”. The president said he did not minimize the threat of the virus: “My action was very strong. I’m not looking to be dishonest. I don’t want people to panic.”

Trump’s misleading response comes one week after the investigative journalist, Bob Woodward, revealed that the president explicitly admitted to downplaying the virus in interviews with him. Woodward has reported that, although Trump’s national security adviser gave him a “jarring” warning in January about the virus, calling it the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency, Trump continued to understate the risks in public statements.

Related: Five key revelations in Bob Woodward’s Trump book, from Covid to Kim ‘love letters’

On 27 February, Trump said publicly: “It’s going to disappear. One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.” On 9 March, he compared it to the flu, tweeting, “Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on”.

By 19 March, Trump declared a national emergency. But at the same time, he told Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Bob Woodward said of Trump: “I don’t know if he’s got it straight in his head, to be honest, what is real and what is unreal.”

At the ABC town hall, the president also said the virus would “go away”, with or without a vaccine. This would happen because of “herd mentality”, he said. It is unclear whether he meant heard immunity, because he repeated the phrase several times.

“It would go away without the vaccine, George,” he told ABC journalist George Stephanopoulos. “With time it goes away. And you’ll develop like a herd mentality. It’s going to be herd developed, and that’s going to happen. That will all happen.”

Trump also responded to the voter’s question by repeating misleading claims about his early travel restrictions during Covid, falsely calling them “bans” on China and Europe.

The president made other questionable claims about the virus on Tuesday night. Asked by one uncommitted voter why he doesn’t do a better job promoting mask usage and why he doesn’t wear masks more often, the president again cast doubts on the scientific consensus of his own administration, which has strongly urged the use of face coverings.

“There are people that don’t think masks are good,” Trump said, adding that masks cause problems for “waiters”.

Asked why he doesn’t support a national mask mandate, the president suggested the voter could ask that question to Democrats and to his rival Joe Biden, saying, “He didn’t do it. They never did it.” It’s unclear what the president was referring to, given that the former vice-president is not currently an elected official and has no authority to implement any mask policy.

The president further defended his early praise of China’s handling of Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic. He said he trusted Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, at the time: “He told me that it was under control, that everything was and it turned out to be not true.”

On the campaign trail, Biden has repeatedly criticized the president for misrepresenting the threat of the virus at the start of the crisis. At a recent event in Michigan, the Democratic nominee said: “He knew how deadly it was. It was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”

The president has had a number of campaign events that have defied state orders on Covid, with large crowds indoors, not practising social distancing.

Biden will take questions from voters on Thursday when he participates in a televised town hall hosted by CNN. Trump and Biden will meet for the first presidential debate at the end of September.





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