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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2:37 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Tapes of President Trump's conversations were released today. Here's what we know so far.

Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images
Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

CNN today obtained audio recordings from some of Bob Woodward's interviews with President Trump for his new book "Rage." There are startling revelations in the tapes about Trump's response to coronavirus among other topics.

The book will officially be released on Sept. 15, but here's what we know so far about the tapes and the book:

  • What Trump knew about coronavirus in February: According to a Feb. 7 tape, Trump said knew in early February coronavirus was dangerous, highly contagious, airborne and "deadly." Trump went on to say that coronavirus was maybe five times "more deadly" than the flu. "This is more deadly. This is five per- you know, this is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff," Trump said, according to the audio. Remember: This was 19 days before the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed first possible US case of "community spread."
  • "Play it down": In a March tape, Trump 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."
  • 18 interviews: The startling revelations in "Rage" were made during 18 wide-ranging interviews Trump gave Woodward from Dec. 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.
  • Other interviews: Woodward, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, conducted hundreds of hours of confidential background interviews with firsthand witnesses for "Rage." Trump's former top Cabinet officials are among his harshest critics in the book, providing some of the most brutal assessments of the commander in chief to date: "Dangerous." "Unfit." "No moral compass." "Doesn't know the difference between the truth and a lie."

3:34 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Republican senators didn't discuss the Trump tapes at lunch today

From CNN's Manu Raju

Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images
Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

There was no discussion at today's Senate Republican lunch about what President Trump said to veteran journalist Bob Woodward, according to two sources at the lunch. 

Some GOP senators entering the lunch dismissed questions on excerpts of Woodward’s new book, saying they haven’t seen it.

Earlier today, several top Republicans defended Trump after revelations that he told Woodward that he intentionally downplayed coronavirus in order to avoid creating a panic.

2:16 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Biden says Trump "failed to do his job on purpose" as coronavirus pandemic spread

Patrick Semansky/AP
Patrick Semansky/AP

Speaking at a campaign event in Michigan, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden reacted to the revelations in Bob Woodward's book, saying that President Trump "willingly lied" and called Trump's response to Covid-19 "a life-and-death betrayal of the American people."

Biden said Trump's comments to Woodward in early February show he "knew how deadly" the virus was.

"It was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people," he added.

"He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed do his job on purpose," Biden said.

2:20 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Sen. Mitt Romney on Trump's "play it down" comments: "It doesn’t sound ideal to me"

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

US Sen. Mitt Romney arrives at the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at Hart Senate Office Building Wednesday, September 9, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
US Sen. Mitt Romney arrives at the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at Hart Senate Office Building Wednesday, September 9, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney responded to veteran journalist Bob Woodward reporting that Gen. Jim Mattis said President Trump has “no moral compass,” saying that while he hasn’t seen the comments, “I have great deal of confidence in General Mattis. I think he’s a fine man with great character.” 

In response to Trump knowing of the coronavirus threat earlier and downplaying the severity of the virus publicly, Romney replied: “It doesn’t sound ideal to me"

According to a March 19 tape from Woodward, Trump 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, according to the tape.

1:43 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump kept how deadly coronavirus was from his campaign, source says

From CNN's Dana Bash

A source close to the Trump campaign says many are shocked by the President's comments so early about how deadly the coronavirus is, noting that the President kept that information from his own campaign.

More on this: According to journalist Bob Woodward in his new book "Rage," 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.

1:33 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Top Republicans defend Trump's comments to Woodward about playing down virus

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

Several top Republicans defended President Donald Trump after revelations that he told Bob Woodward that he intentionally downplayed coronavirus in order to avoid creating a panic and gave the public a rosy assessment despite what he knew privately.

Sen. Thom Tillis, a vulnerable Republican who is up for reelection, said he wants to see "the full context" of Trump's comments before fully weighing in. But he added: "When you're in a crisis situation, you have to inform people for their public health but you also don't want to create hysteria."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican also up for reelection, pointed to Feb. 29 comments that Dr. Anthony Fauci made on the "Today" show where he said that there was "no need" for people to change their lifestyles "at this moment," though Fauci also warned about the threat of "community spread" from the coronavirus and cautioned that the risk level "could change."

"I think it became clear that the human transmission was greater than originally thought," Graham told CNN.

"So when the President shutdown the economy in March I think that was a bold decision because he took the hottest economy in decades and shut it down. I think that was the decision of consequence, shutting the economy down." (The White House left the decisions to states to decide whether to shut down their economies.)

Graham added: "I don’t think he needs to go on TV and screaming we’re all going to die.” 

Asked again if he was OK with Trump admitting that he played down the threat, Graham said: “His actions of shutting the economy down were the right actions. I think the tone during that time sort of spoke for itself. People knew it was serious”

Other Republicans had similar refrains.

"I’d argued since day one that we put this in proper perspective: I have not been in favor of these overall shutdowns, have been devastating to the economy, devastating to people's health in other ways," said Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told me, when asked about Trump's comments to Woodward.

Johnson added: "It’s been a difficult thing to manage, and I’ve tried not to be critical of any government officials having to make really tough decisions with imperfect information, that includes governors and the President. So I understand what he's saying. I don't think it's an illegitimate point to make."

1:27 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Pelosi says Trump's remarks show "his weakness"

From CNN's Haley Byrd

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday responded to President Trump’s comments that he wanted to play down the coronavirus pandemic during an interview with Bob Woodward for his forthcoming book earlier this year.

"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.”

During an interview with MSNBC, Pelosi said Trump should face the reality of coronavirus. 

"The way to avoid a panic is to show leadership — to say, ‘This is what the challenge is, we’re going to use scientific evidence that is available to us to contain it, we are going to make sure that we can stop the spread of it.' That is what stops a panic, not ignoring it,” Pelosi said.

She argued that Trump’s remarks show “his weakness.”

“He didn’t know how to cope with the challenge to our country,” said Pelosi. "Secondly, his disdain and denial for science, which has the answers. He could have contained this early on."

She said she doesn’t understand why there hasn’t been “some kind of intervention” by those who work with Trump or his family members “to say something is very wrong here.”

2:32 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Fauci told others Trump's leadership was "rudderless," according to Woodward book

Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP Images
Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Abaca/Sipa USA/AP Images

On top of the 18 wide-ranging interviews President Trump gave journalist Bob Woodward from Dec. 5, 2019 to July 21, 2020, Woodward conducted hundreds of hours of confidential background interviews with firsthand witnesses for his new book "Rage."

The book contains harsh evaluations of the President's leadership on the virus from current officials.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration's top infectious disease expert, is quoted telling others Trump's leadership was "rudderless" and that his "attention span is like a minus number."

"His sole purpose is to get reelected," Fauci told an associate, according to Woodward.

1:23 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Several GOP senators say they "haven't read" excerpts from Woodward's book

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

Several Republican senators entering the GOP lunch today have dismissed questions on excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book saying they haven’t seen it.

“Haven’t seen the book,” Sen. Ted Cruz replied to reporters. Sen. John Kennedy added, “I haven’t read it.”

“I’ve not read it,” Sen. Rick Scott also said.

Scott added that, “I do believe that the federal level, state level and local level, they could have done at putting out more information, even today.”