In an interview with Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, Bob Woodward discussed the process of writing his new book, Rage, and his multiple on-the-record, recorded interviews with President Donald Trump — including the president’s stunning admission that he wanted to downplay the coronavirus pandemic.
Woodward told Pelley how Trump was first getting warnings about the coronavirus back on January 28th, “before the virus was on anyone’s radar.” That’s when National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told him, “This virus will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.”
According to Woodward, Trump’s head “popped up” at that comment and he began questioning his advisers. Some were more optimistic, thinking the impact might be like SARS was in 2003, with only eight known cases in the U.S., but Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger had a far more dire view.
Pottinger had been a reporter in China and told the president that his unofficial Chinese contacts told him that the coronavirus pandemic would be like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed more than 600,000 people in the United States.
“It was a stunning moment in the Trump presidency,” said Woodward, “and, I think, in American history. Because he then went on to publicly dismiss the virus. And he knew that this was a pandemic coming.”
One day after that meeting, the White House announced it was forming a coronavirus task force.
Pelley pointed out that despite Trump knowing the stakes of the pandemic, he still downplayed it in public.
“This is the tragedy,” Woodward said. “The president of the United States has a duty to warn. The public will understand that. But if they get the feeling that they’re not getting the truth, then you’re going down the path of deceit and cover up.”
Woodward added that Trump’s claim he didn’t want to create a panic misunderstood the American people. “We know, from history, when the public is told the truth, they organize,” Woodward said. “When there’s a crisis, when the president, particularly, knows something, it’s time to tell the public in some form. He failed.”
Later in the interview, Woodward described a call he had with Trump on August 14 — months into the pandemic with millions of Americans infected and approaching 200,000 dead.
“Nothing more could have been done,” Trump told Woodward during that call.
Woodward described his shocked reaction to that comment:
“Nothing more could have been done.” Does he remember what he told me, back in February, about, it’s more deadly than the flu? I mean it almost took my breath away, that there was such certainty, when he was absolutely wrong about the issue that defines the position of this country right now.
Watch the video above, via CBS.
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