WASHINGTON | Involved in a new book by Bob Woodward, US President Donald Trump defended his record on COVID-19 on Thursday, assuring that he first wanted to avoid any “panic”.
• Read also: All developments in the COVID-19 pandemic
Eight weeks before the presidential election, the publication of extracts from this book written by the famous Watergate journalist provoked a strong reaction from the Democratic candidate Joe Biden who denounced a “betrayal” vis-à-vis the American people.
“I always wanted to minimize (the danger)”, explained the president in a telephone exchange with Bob Woodward on March 19, transcribed in this work entitled Rage.
Several weeks earlier, on February 7, he explained to the same reporter how COVID-19 was “a deadly thing”.
Questioned at the end of the afternoon from the White House, Mr. Trump claimed responsibility for his remarks.
“I have been very open, whether it is with Woodward or with whomever it is: we cannot fuel the panic,” he said.
“I do not want people to be afraid, I do not want to create panic”, hammered the president who had affirmed, at the beginning of the pandemic, that the virus would end not disappear “as by miracle”.
The management of the epidemic, which killed more than 190,000 people in the United States, earned Donald Trump very strong criticism, from his opponents, but also from scientists and some elected officials from his own camp.
He is accused of sending mixed and confused signals, but also of lacking compassion in the face of the devastation caused by this virus. Poll after poll, a very large majority of Americans severely judge its action on this front.
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The book, which is due out on September 15, is based in particular on a total of 18 interviews granted to Bob Woodward between December 2019 and July 2020 recorded with the agreement of Donald Trump.
Asked about these remarks by the president, his spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, defended his management of the pandemic and his communication on it.
“The president has never lied to Americans about COVID,” she said during her daily press briefing. “The president has shown calm.”
For Joe Biden, the observation is clear: the president “knowingly and voluntarily lied, for months, lied about the threat that COVID-19 represented” for Americans.
“He had the information. He knew the danger. (…) He lied to the Americans, ”he said from Michigan.
For her part, Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, considered that these exchanges demonstrated “the weakness” of the American president.
“He did not know how to respond to the challenge,” she said on the MSNBC channel, also denouncing “his contempt for science”.
After long displaying an ambiguous position on the issue of wearing a mask, the Republican billionaire appeared in public wearing a mask for the first time only on July 11. A few days later, he felt it was a “patriotic” gesture.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the American Institute of Infectious Diseases, judged that Donald Trump, whom he had worked with a lot within the crisis unit set up at the White House, was concerned that “the country would not do not panic ”, but did not distort the facts.
“I don’t remember an episode where there would have been a blatant distortion of the things I had talked about with him,” he explained on Fox News.
Bob Woodward rose to fame around the world for exposing, along with Carl Bernstein, the Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign in August 1974.
In a first book on the Trump presidency published two years ago, Mr. Woodward painted a portrait of an uneducated, angry and paranoid president whom his collaborators strive to control to avoid the worst blunders.