Bob Woodward reveals Trump deliberately played down pandemic risk

Photo by Evan Vucci/AP: Donald Trump has dismissed Woodward's book as boring

Contributed by Joe Montero

Evidence that Donald Trump knew all along about the threat of the Covid-19 virus spread, contained in the pages of Bob Woodward’s new book (Rage), has bought the President of the United States a new headache

The scandal is not only that it reveals his knowing all along. If Woodward is right, Trimp also chose to play it down. How could this have escaped the attention of others in high places? They must have played their parts in the charade that followed.

Woodward, along with with Carl Bernstein, rose to fame in 1974, over the exposures that led to the demise of President Richard Nixon. Woodword’s subsequent stature, meant that he had greater access to the highest levels of the state, including presidents.

With the aid of an insider, Woodward managed to get hold of some tapes of telephone calls. They showed the President talking about the threat in January, and making clear, his intention to downplay its importance.

The implication is that this began the chain of events, which led to the world’s highest infection and death rates. Nearly 200,000 have died across the United sates so far.

If action had been taken in January, the toll would have been far less. China had already begun to act and had warned governments and health authorities around the world about the need to take serious measures to contain the spread. Time has proved the Chinese assessment to be the right one.

Woodward did not only have the tapes. He interviewed Trump more than once. During an interview on 7 February, he told Woodward, he had just had a conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. He admitted that Xi jinping had been straight and warned about the threat posed by Covid-19, and had a urged serious measures to contain it.

Trump said that “this is deadly stuff,” and continued with, “It’s also more deadly than… even your strenuous flus… this is five percent [case fatality rate] versus one percent and less than one percent.”

Contrast this to his public statements from then on. Covid-19 was dismissed as no more than your average flu. There was also a failure to impose adequate safety measures and provide the resources needed.

On 19 March, Trump told Woodward, he was seeking to play down the danger of infection. What reason did he give?

“I don’t want to create a panic.” 

But at the February interview, according to Woodward, Trump already had been told his national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien:

“This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency… This is going to be the roughest thing you face.”

Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty: Bob Woodward

O’Brien’s warning suggests that self preservation form any fallout could be a motive. Downplaying is a way to deny responsibility and set up the scene to later shift the blame to others.

There is more to it. Trump has a personal business interest in minimising disruption to his investments, which exist through a network on about 500 companies, with interests in property, hotels,, casinos, resorts, travel, aviation, and retail. He stood to lose big in any restriction of people’s movement and gatherings of large numbers.

In fact, Trump’s circle of Wall Street tycoons shared the same threat to their profits, and also had a clear motive to resist any interference with business as usual.

Denial and blame shifting became for them a matter of class interest.

The Trump strategy to preventing the spread of the virus, when it did begin to hit the United States  in a big way, was to launch the biggest corporate bailout in history, and the nation continues to real with the consequence.

This is the context that explains the use of the insulting ‘Chinese virus’ term, the quick fix claims, denials of the failure to contain, blaming other levels of government, and more.

Trump has dismissed Woodward’s book, without answering any of the allegations. “We had to show calm,” he continues to say.


Bob Woodard has been accused by some people for not revealing what he knew sooner.

One of them is Donald Trump, who has used this to cast doubt on the woodeard’s motives and therefore what is in his book.

Criticism has also come from some of Trump’s opponents, who say that holding this information for half a years contributed to many deaths.

Reality is a little more complex than this. It involves the difficult and sometimes contradictory relationship established between journalists and sources. Part of this is building a trust, which will encourage revelations that will only be made in confidence. Betray this and the trust is gone.

The fact is that Woodard was able to establish the trust to access people in positions and even the President. Reputation alone would not have succeeded. It is inconceivable that Trump would have talked without a confidentiality agreement.

At the end of it all, what he learned has been shared with the world, and this is what is most important.

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