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President Donald J. Trump whispers with Vice President Mike Pence as members of the coronavirus task force speak during a briefing in response to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Monday, April 13, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

'Reckless Homicide': Audio Tapes Reveal Trump Knew Covid-19 Was 'Deadly Stuff' for Months While Publicly Downplaying Threat

Critics reserved some outrage for veteran journalist Bob Woodward, who learned the president was lying to the public about the pandemic in March. 

Julia Conley

Though unsurprised at the news that President Donald Trump deliberately lied about and downplayed the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, political observers on Wednesday were outraged following the release of audio recordings of interviews veteran journalist Bob Woodward conducted with the president in February and March in which Trump openly admitted he didn't share with the public his own understanding that the pandemic was "deadly stuff."

Ahead of the release of his new book about Trump's presidency, "Rage," Woodward leaked audio interviews from February 7 and March 19, in which the president shared his knowledge that the pandemic was a serious threat to Americans' lives—and his intention to keep that a secret.

Trump told Woodward in February—10 days after being told by his national security team that the coronavirus was "the biggest national security threat" he would face—that the coronavirus was an airborne virus and "more deadly than even your strenuous flu."

"You just breathe the air and that's how it’s passed," Trump said. "This is deadly stuff."

Publicly at the time, the president vehemently denied that the coronavirus was something Americans needed to worry about. On February 24, he tweeted that the virus was "very much under control in the USA." On March 11, when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, Trump told the public that for "the vast majority of Americans, the risk is very, very low"—a month after telling Woodward the virus was easily spread through aerosols.

"If Woodward's on-tape revelations don’t persuade the nation to turn its political back on Trump, McConnell, and those who have enabled them, Lord help this nation."
—Rev. Dr. William Barber, Poor People's Campaign

While the president understood Covid-19 to be airborne days after being warned about the pandemic in January, he allowed confusion and debate over how to prevent the spread of the disease to persist for months. Trump downplayed the CDC's recommendation, released April 3, that Americans wear face coverings to prevent transmission; he told the public, "You don't have to do it... It's only a recommendation." The president himself didn't wear a face mask in public until July 11, and his campaign has not required masks at his campaign rallies.

On March 19, Trump again spoke with Woodward, telling him he had learned "some startling facts" about Covid-19, including that "it's not just older people, it's plenty of young people" who are vulnerable to the disease.

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump said. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden quickly went on the offensive after the audio recordings were released, summarizing the newly-confirmed information:

"While a deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job—on purpose," Biden tweeted. "It was a life or death betrayal of the American people."

Others added their condemnation of the president:

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have lost a loved one to the pandemic—shared personal grief as well as anger over the confirmation that nearly 200,000 people "lost their lives to Covid-19 as a result of this president's gross negligence and lies."

While White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany blatantly lied to reporters Wednesday after being asked at a press conference about the recordings, saying, "The president never downplayed the virus," Trump attempted to defend his choice to hide his knowledge of the severity of the pandemic from the public, saying he "didn't want to create panic."

The excuse ran counter to the president's recent penchant for claiming that violent riots led by radical left-wing agitators are overtaking cities across the U.S. and will continue to do so if Biden is elected president, some noted on social media. 

"A guy whose entire re-election campaign is based on engendering fear and panic is saying that he lied to prevent panic is an interesting plot twist," said Esquire columnist Charles Pierce.

Meanwhile, critics noted that while Trump chose to lie to the public about the pandemic, he had help from Woodward. On March 19, when the president told Woodward he was intentionally downplaying the coronavirus crisis, 200 people in the U.S. had died of Covid-19 in the United States. Six months later, as the recordings were made public on Wednesday, the death toll approached 190,000.

Rev. Dr. William Barber expressed hope that now that Trump's months-old knowledge of the severity of the pandemic has been confirmed, voters will resoundingly reject him in the November election.

"If Woodward's on-tape revelations don’t persuade the nation to turn its political back on Trump, McConnell, and those who have enabled them, Lord help this nation," Barber tweeted. "It will reveal more about who we are than who Trump is."


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