WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told journalist Bob Woodward that he knew the coronavirus was more deadly and contagious than the flu while he continued to downplay its dangers to the public, according to Woodward’s new book “Rage.”

“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward on March 19 in excerpts of audio interviews obtained by CNN. 

In interviews with Woodward between December 2019 and July 2020, Trump discussed the threat of the coronavirus with a level of detail that he had not yet acknowledged to the public, noting Feb. 7 that it was “deadly stuff,” and “more deadly than your — even your strenuous flus.” 

While Trump discussed the threat of the virus to Woodward, he continued to assure the public that it was “under control” in the U.S. and would “go away.” The pandemic has caused nearly 190,000 deaths in the U.S. with cases totaling over 6 million.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president on Wednesday after the publication of the interviews with Woodward, arguing that he was being a good leader by remaining calm.

“This president at a time when you’re facing insurmountable challenges, it’s important to express confidence, it’s important to express calm,” McEnany told reporters.

“The president has never lied to the American public on COVID,” McEnany said. “The president was expressing calm and his actions reflect that.”

Trump publicly compared the coronavirus to the flu, arguing that cases and deaths from the coronavirus were far less than the flu, but with the flu, “Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” as he tweeted March 9.

He also told Woodward he was aware the virus was transmitted through the air in February. Yet in April when the CDC began advising people to wear masks to stop the virus’ spread, Trump continued to resist wearing a mask in public, and only solidly endorsed mask-wearing as “patriotic” in July.

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“It goes through air, Bob,” Trump told Woodward in February. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in reaction to the revelations in Woodward’s book that Trump is responsible for deaths because of his downplaying to the public.

“What he said about the virus early on, he understood better than he let on, when he was calling it a hoax, his delay, distortion and denial about the threat is responsible for many of the deaths and infections that we have today,” Pelosi said Wednesday.

Woodward’s book “Rage” is set for release on Sept. 15.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump chose to downplay coronavirus, according to Woodward book ‘Rage’

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