[imagesource: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE]
Whilst downplaying the danger posed by COVID-19 publicly, behind the scenes, Donald Trump was well aware that the virus was going to take many American lives.
The US death toll currently exceeds 196 000, with more than 6,5 million confirmed cases.
We know this because multiple sources have spoken about briefings as far back as January, where the severity of the pandemic was repeatedly stressed to him.
For example, on January 28, national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien told Trump “this will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency…This is going to be the roughest thing you face.”
Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser, then stated that “after reaching contacts in China, it was evident that the world faced a health emergency on par with the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide”.
On February 7, Trump spoke with journalist Bob Woodward, stressing that “this is deadly stuff”.
All of this is contained in Woodward’s book, Rage, and cannot be disputed by Trump and his cronies because Woodward recorded the conversations.
Some of those audio recordings were recently aired on Trevor Noah’s show, during a scathing assessment of Trump’s criminal mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Woodward himself has also come under fire, with critics saying that he should have made the recordings public sooner, to prevent American lives being lost.
One such critic – Trump himself:
Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2020
Yeah, how dare you not tell everyone I was lying sooner, you monster!
During a recent interview with the Washington Post’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, Woodward defended his decision to sit on the recordings.
This from the Guardian:
[He] said he needed to provide more complete context than he would a news story.
Woodward told Sullivan he did not know where Trump acquired his information and “the biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true”.
“My job is to understand it, and to hold him accountable, and to hold myself accountable,” said Woodward, explaining that it took months to contextualize everything with reporting. “I did the best I could.”
In another interview with the Associated Press, Woodward said, “if I had done the story at that time about what he knew in February, that’s not telling us anything we didn’t know”, adding that his goal was to verify everything, and then present the book before the presidential election in November.
“That was the demarcation line for me,” Woodward remarked. “Had I decided that my book was coming out on Christmas, the end of this year, that would have been unthinkable.”
There’s probably some truth to that, but then there are also massive financial incentives to withhold your book’s most damning information until shortly before its release date.
Still, nobody should lose sight of the fact that the sitting US president intentionally downplayed the threat posed by a deadly virus, and the national death toll will shortly tick over the 200 000 mark.
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