President Donald Trump admitted in March that he "always wanted to play it down" regarding the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat to the United States.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward interviewed Trump on multiple occasions earlier this year about his new book "Rage," which will be released Sept. 15.
The newspaper posted several excerpts of the book and audio files containing snippets of Woodward's interviews with the president, which indicate that as Trump was trying to downplay the virus to the American people, he was expressing his concerns in private.
In a March 19 exchange, Trump said he tried to avoid creating a "panic."
"Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old- older. ... Young people too, plenty of young people," Trump said.
"Well I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you ... I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
More than a month earlier on Feb. 7 as the coronavirus was spreading worldwide, Trump said the virus had a higher death rate than the flu.
"It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. You know, 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," Trump said.
"And so, that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your — you know, your, even your strenuous flus. You know, people don't realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?"
He added, "This is more deadly. … This is 5% versus 1% and less than 1%. You know? So, this is deadly stuff."
And on Jan. 28, national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Trump regarding the virus, "This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency. This is going to be the roughest thing you face."
Democrats and even some Republicans have criticized Trump's handling of the pandemic, which has infected 6.5 million Americans and killed more than 194,000. Worldwide, nearly 28 million people have gotten sick and the death toll is approaching 1 million.
Trump has publicly questioned the use of masks to help slow the spread of the virus even as his health experts said they are effective — sometimes while standing on the same podium. Last week, Trump ridiculed Democrat Joe Biden for how he wears his mask.
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