President Trump privately told The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward back in February that the emerging novel coronavirus was “deadly” — speaking in more dire terms than he was publicly at the time — according to an account of Woodward’s new book which also said Trump boasted of building a secret weapons system.
The Post reported Wednesday on passages from the book, “Rage,” including Woodward’s discussions with the president.
The section on Trump’s COVID-19 comments generated quick controversy, though the cryptic details on a new weapons system are sure to spark speculation. Woodward quoted Trump saying that the U.S. has built a weapons system “that nobody’s ever had in this country before.”
“I have built a nuclear — a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before,” Trump said while discussing how close the U.S. came to war with North Korea in 2017, according to the Post. “We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody — what we have is incredible.”
Woodward reportedly wrote that anonymous sources confirmed there was a secret new weapons system, and the “sources were surprised Trump had disclosed it.”
Much of the report focuses on the Trump administration’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
After being told by National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien that COVID-19 was going to be “the biggest national security threat” Trump would face in his term in the White House, the president reportedly called Woodward and told the journalist that the situation was much more dire than he was admitting publicly.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump told Woodward during a Feb. 7 call. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
“This is deadly stuff,” the president said. Though this conversation happened in February, it was not reported until now.
At that time, Trump was saying that the contagion was no more virulent than the seasonal flu, that the government had the virus under control and that it would soon disappear.
“I wanted to always play it down,” the president told Woodward in a March conversation.
As of Wednesday, COVID-19 has sickened more than 6.3 million Americans and killed almost 190,000, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Responding to questions about Woodward’s book, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday denied that Trump intentionally misled the American public about the threat of COVID-19.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “This president at a time when you’re facing insurmountable challenges, it is important to express confidence, it is important to express calm.”
McEnany added: “The president, just days after having this discussion with Bob Woodward, said this, from this podium on March 30th, he said ‘I do want them to stay calm, we are doing a great job … Stay calm. It will go away but it is important to stay calm.’”
“The president has never lied to the American public on the threat of COVID,” she said. “The president was expressing calm and his actions express that.”