Tapes of Trump's conversations released

By Mike Hayes, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:05 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020
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1:35 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

White House: "The President has never lied to the American public on Covid"

Just moments after audio tapes from journalist Bob Woodward's new book were released, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump has "never lied" to Americans about the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the tapes, Trump on March 19 said, "I wanted to always play it down." This came even as he had declared a national emergency over the virus days earlier. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic," Trump said on the tapes.

"The President has never lied to the American public on Covid," McEnany said. "The President was expressing calm and his actions reflect that."

Later in the briefing, McEnany said “The President never down played the virus” directly contradicting the President’s own words.

“The President never down played the virus. Once again, the President expressed calm. The President was serious about this when Democrats were pursuing their sham impeachment. He was expressing calm and he was taking early action and his actions are reflective of how seriously he took Covid,” McEnany said.

Trump told Woodward on March 19: “I wanted to always play it down."

CNN's Kevin Liptak and Jason Hoffman contributed to this report.

WATCH:

1:08 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

NOW: The White House holds a press briefing

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany is holding a press briefing, just after the first details of journalist Bob Woodward's new book have been released.

President Trump knew in early February coronavirus was dangerous, highly contagious, airborne and "deadly," according to an audio recording from Woodward.

The White House press briefing was originally scheduled for noon ET. It was then pushed back to 12:30 p.m. ET.

12:49 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump congratulates GOP House candidates in first tweet after explosive revelations in Woodward's new book

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Trump's first tweet after explosive revelations in Bob Woodward's new book congratulates New Hampshire House candidate Matt Mowers, who won his primary last night.

A subsequent tweet congratulates New Hampshire Senate candidate Corky Messner.

12:48 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump said he knew coronavirus was "deadly stuff" early in pandemic according to new Woodward book

From CNN's Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart

President Trump admitted 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," and that he repeatedly played it down publicly, according to legendary journalist Bob Woodward in his new book "Rage."

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

In a series of interviews with Woodward, Trump revealed that he had a surprising level of detail about the threat of the virus earlier than previously known. "Pretty amazing," Trump told Woodward, adding that the coronavirus was maybe five times "more deadly" than the flu.

Trump's admissions are in stark contrast to his frequent public comments at the time insisting that the virus was "going to disappear" and "all work out fine."

The book, using Trump's own words, depicts a President who has betrayed the public trust and the most fundamental responsibilities of his office. In "Rage," Trump says the job of a president is "to keep our country safe." But in early February, Trump told Woodward he knew how deadly the virus was, and in March, admitted he kept that knowledge hidden from the public.

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward on March 19, even as he had declared a national emergency over the virus days earlier. "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 thousands of American lives could have been saved.

The startling revelations in "Rage," which CNN obtained ahead of its September 15 release, were made during 18 wide-ranging interviews Trump gave Woodward from December 5, 2019 to July 21, 2020. The interviews were recorded by Woodward with Trump's permission, and CNN has obtained copies of some of the audio tapes.

"Rage" also includes brutal assessments of Trump's presidency from many of his former top national security officials, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Mattis is quoted as calling Trump "dangerous" and "unfit" to be commander in chief. Woodward writes that Coats "continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that Putin had something on Trump." Woodward continues, writing that Coats felt, "How else to explain the president's behavior? Coats could see no other explanation."