Donald Trump’s top spokeswoman on Wednesday denied the president misled the American people about the threat posed by the coronavirus, saying he merely wanted to “express calm” even as he told journalist Bob Woodward he purposely downplayed its seriousness.
“The president has never lied to the American public on Covid,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters, saying the president downplayed the virus publicly because “he doesn’t want to see chaos.”
“His actions reflect that,” she said during a contentious briefing after excerpts of a new book by Woodward were published.
Asked if the president lied to the American people, she shot back: “Absolutely not.”
Watch: Trump admits to deliberately misleading US public over Covid-19, but will it matter?
But he told Woodward in a recorded conversation, “I always wanted to play it down.” In the same conversation, the president was clear the virus moved through the air and was more deadly than the most “strenuous flus.”
Moments later, she was asked if she denies that Mr Trump misled his country, she said: “Of course I deny that.”
Ms McEnany denied, despite accounts of conversations with Woodward to the contrary, that Mr Trump intentionally downplayed the virus’s threat even though he appears to have admitted doing so to the longtime Washington Post journalist.
When asked why, on the same day he publicly said as the weather warmed the virus would be wiped out, he told Woodward it is “deadly stuff,” she claimed he had said numerous times from the White House podium that up to 200,000 Americans could die.
She has a point on the latter: Mr Trump did several times say that many people could lose their lives due to the respiratory bug.
But, according to Woodward’s book, the president seems to have been more clear with the journalist about how the virus is passed from person to person.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Mr Trump reportedly said in a 7 February call with Woodward. “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 added in a private conversation at a time he was publicly saying the virus would somehow “disappear” and “go away.”
Read more about what Mr Woodward reports Mr Trump told him in nearly 20 conversations here.