Donald Trump, in a remarkable admission, says he publicly downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus – but only in an attempt “to reduce panic.”
“If you said in order to reduce panic, maybe that’s so,” the president said when asked about comments he made to journalist Bob Woodward for a coming book. “It’s just another political hit job.”
Mr Trump told reporters he told Mr Woodward one thing and the American people another because being honest in public would mean “you’re going to have bigger problems.”
“I don’t want people to be frightened,” he said. “We want to show confidence, we want to show strength.”
Mr Trump shot back at criticism that mounted all day, saying he felt he and his team “had to show calm.”
“The last thing we can show is panic or excitement or fear,” he said at the end of an event on his expanding his list of conservatives who might be Supreme Court nominees if he wins re-election.
As his administration in early spring struggled to explain to people how the virus spreads, Mr Trump was clear in one conversation with Mr Woodward.
"This is deadly stuff," Mr Trump told the Washington Post journalist on 7 February.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” the president added during the phone 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.”
Mr Trump’s aides are correct that he did say from the White House podium earlier this year that up to 200,000 Americans could die from the respiratory virus.
But the president also has said over and over it will one day just “disappear” and “go away” – one time saying the warming spring and summer temperatures would eradicate it – while pushing states to reopen their economy and schools.