Washington CNN  — 

President Donald Trump in March said he didn’t have “a lot of time” to meet with Dr. Anthony Fauci as the coronavirus pandemic surged across the US, according to newly released audio from an interview with journalist Bob Woodward.

Trump hailed Fauci in the March 19 interview as a “sharp guy” who has “done it before,” but when pressed if he had met with the nation’s leading infectious disease expert one-on-one for a better understanding of the virus, the President offered: “Yes, I guess, but honestly there’s not a lot of time for that, Bob.”

“This is a busy White House,” Trump explained. “We’ve got a lot of things happening. And then this came up.”

The President’s concession that he had limited time for Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, in the early weeks of the pandemic is likely to fuel fresh scrutiny of his handling of the outbreak that has infected more than 7.3 million people in the US, including Trump himself.

In a video posted to Twitter from his suite in Walter Reed National Medical Center – where Trump has stayed since Friday when he was airlifted to the facility from the White House – the President boasted that being treated for Covid-19 is “the real school” and that he’s “learned a lot” about the virus more than six months into the pandemic.

“This isn’t the ‘let’s read the book’ school, and I get it and I understand it, and it’s a very interesting thing,” Trump said in the video posted Sunday. “And I’m going to be letting you know about it.”

Trump’s March concession of not prioritizing time for Fauci also underscores the tension that has defined their relationship throughout the pandemic.

Widely considered a rare source of honesty from within the White House coronavirus task force, Fauci has garnered repeated rebukes from the President and his allies in conservative media for countering their more optimistic outlooks of the outbreak.

“I consider myself more a realist than an alarmist,” Fauci told CNN in July.

In previously released interview tapes, Trump admitted to Woodward that he knew weeks before the first confirmed US coronavirus death that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,”

“This is deadly stuff,” Trump told Woodward on February 7.

And on March 19, the same day Trump said he didn’t have a lot of time to meet with Fauci, he also told Woodward he “wanted to always play it down.”

“I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”