Trump Admits That He Lied About the Coronavirus

“I wanted to always play it down.”

Greg Lovett/ZUMA

The coronavirus is a rapidly developing news story, so some of the content in this article might be out of date. Check out our most recent coverage of the coronavirus crisis, and subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

As President Trump downplayed the threat of the coronavirus in public earlier this year and offered a string of false and misleading claims, privately, he was telling a very different story. The virus, he acknowledged in a February phone call with journalist Bob Woodward, was actually “more deadly than your strenuous flus” and was “deadly stuff.”

That didn’t stop Trump from suggesting on Twitter that COVID-19 was less dangerous than the flu:

In another phone conversation, Trump admitted to deliberately misleading the public about the virus. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Those are the newest revelations from Woodward’s forthcoming book, Rage, which, according to reports, also alleges that former Defense Secretary James Mattis warned that it might be necessary for senior administration officials to take “collective action” against Trump. That nugget is likely to enrage Trump, particularly amid the backlash prompted by an Atlantic report that he called American soldiers killed in combat “losers.”

But while Trump might work to push back against the comments attributed to Mattis, he’ll have a more difficult time denying his own remarks about the pandemic. After all, during a March 31 press briefing, he all but admitted to lying about the threat of the coronavirus:

“I want to give people a feeling of hope. I could be very negative. I could say ‘wait a minute, those numbers are terrible. This is going to be horrible,'” he said. “Well, this is really easy to be negative about, but I want to give people hope, too. You know, I’m a cheerleader for the country.”

Acosta pressed him: “So you knew it was going to be this severe when you were saying this was under control?”

Basically, yes, Trump responded: “I thought it could be. I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible, and I knew it could be maybe good. Don’t forget, at that time, people didn’t know that much about it, even the experts. We were talking about it. We didn’t know where it was going. We saw China but that was it. Maybe it would have stopped at China.”

Plus, there are tapes!

 

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate