President Trump on Thursday defended his decision to mislead the public about the deadliness of the coronavirus as documented in Bob Woodward's new book, declining to call his misstatements about the virus and its spread a "lie" and saying he needed to show "strength" in the face of the crisis.
"I want to show a level of confidence, and I want to show strength as a leader, and I want to show our country is going to be fine one way or another," Trump said at a news conference.
"There is no lie here. What we're doing is we're leading," he said, insisting that America is "rounding the final turn" of the pandemic and that the nation had done "much, much better than the European Union" in its response to the virus. The U.S. not only has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world, but it also has a higher rate of infection than most EU member states.
Trump's remarks came a day after the media reported excerpts from Woodward's new book, Rage, which details the president's earlier than publicly acknowledged understanding of the lethality of the virus and its airborne spread. The president used the occasion not only to push back against criticism that he lied but also against the journalist whose work has led to additional scrutiny of what the president knew about the virus and when he knew it.
When pressed on why he didn't alert the public sooner, Trump said: "I don't want to jump up and down and start screaming, 'Death! Death!' "
"People knew it was airborne," he said, pointing to early reports out of China about the way the virus spread among people. "Everybody knew it was airborne."
One question that has emerged among the revelations is why Trump gave 17 on-the-record interviews to Woodward, whose work at The Washington Post helped lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and whose subsequent books have skewered Democratic and Republican administrations alike.
Trump said he talked to Woodward "out of curiosity," adding that the journalist should have "immediately gone to the authorities" if he felt that Trump was downplaying the virus.
Woodward, who has faced criticism for not revealing more quickly the contradictory nature of the president's private and public remarks, writes in Rage that Trump said in a recorded Feb. 7 conversation: "You just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flu."
Days later, Trump told supporters at a New Hampshire campaign rally: "Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away." Later that month, Trump tweeted that the virus was "very much under control in the USA."
Despite his private awareness of the virus's deadliness, Trump long declined to embrace expert advice on wearing face masks while in public and has in recent weeks relaunched a robust election campaign schedule that includes tightly packed outdoor rallies of thousands of supporters.
At a recent New Hampshire campaign rally, when Trump supporters in the heavily mask-less crowd were asked in an announcement to don masks, attendees booed.
So far, more than 190,000 Americans have been killed by the virus.