Even as President Donald Trump privately admitted to journalist Bob Woodward earlier this year that the coronavirus was highly contagious and dangerous, Trump claimed he wasn’t worried about contracting the virus himself.
CNN on Friday obtained a new audio recording from Woodward’s April 13 interview with Trump that sheds new light on the President’s mindset. While Trump admitted to Woodward the virus is a “plague” that “rips you apart,” he has publicly resisted wearing a mask and has flouted social-distancing recommendations.
When Woodward pressed the President about whether he was worried about becoming infected, Trump dismissed concerns about his own health.
“You’re risking getting it, of course,” said Woodward. “The way you move around and have those briefings and deal with people. Are you worried about that?”
“No, I’m not. I don’t know why I’m not. I’m not,” the President responded.
“Why?” Woodward asked.
“I don’t know,” Trump said. “I’m just not.”
The exchange, which is described in Woodward’s recent best-selling book “Rage,” depicts a president with little concern that he himself could be at risk. Not quite six months later, Trump announced he has tested positive for the virus along with his wife, first lady Melania Trump.
Trump’s apparent lack of concern for his own susceptibility to the virus adds more detail to a portrait of the President, whose health and well-being are of critical importance to the country’s governance.
This cavalier attitude about his health reflects his public posture of playing down the risk. He has contradicted or undermined the recommendations from experts in his own administration. And he has repeatedly said that the end of the virus’ spread was just around the corner. The President’s rosy assessment of the public-health crisis had not diminished even in the hours leading up to announcing his positive test results early Friday morning. In prerecorded remarks for Thursday night’s Al Smith charity dinner, the President proclaimed that the “end of the pandemic is in sight.”
But as Woodward’s book and recorded conversations have demonstrated, Trump has admitted how deadly and contagious the disease is. During his April 13 interview with Woodward, Trump told the journalist that the virus is “so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”
CNN has previously reported that Trump told Woodward a story about a meeting of about 10 people in the Oval Office where someone in the room sneezed.
“You know, just a sneeze, the entire room bailed out, OK? Including me, by the way,” Trump said.
In other interviews with Woodward, Trump discussed the dangers of the coronavirus, saying as early as February 7 that the disease is “deadly stuff.” Those admissions contradict his frequent public comments insisting that the virus is “going to disappear” and “all work out fine.”
The recordings show that even in the early days of the pandemic, when relatively little was known about the virus, Trump recognized that he was part of a more vulnerable population. In an April 5 interview with Woodward, Trump explained that older people and those with “a condition” would be in “big trouble” if they contracted the disease.
“It moves rapidly, Bob. It moves rapidly and viciously. If you’re the wrong person and if it gets you, your life is pretty much over if you’re in the wrong group,” Trump said.
“Well, that’s our age group, isn’t it sir?” Woodward asked.
“It’s – well, hopefully we’re much younger than that, Bob. You look younger. But, but it’s our age group. You know? Older, especially 80. Well, you’re not anywhere near that,” Trump replied.
Woodward is 77 and Trump, at the time, was 73. He turned 74 in June.
As Woodward explains in his book, Trump said just days after declaring a national emergency that he liked downplaying the severity of 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.”
If instead of playing down what he knew, Trump had acted decisively in early February with a strict shutdown and a consistent message to wear masks, social distance and wash hands, experts believe that tens of thousands of American lives could have been saved.