“This is deadly stuff,” US President Donald Trump said of the coronavirus in an interview with journalist Bob Woodward for his upcoming book, Rage. But it was a vastly different story than he was telling the public at the time. Trump would later admit to Woodward that publicly, he “wanted to always” play down the severity of the virus.
Woodward conducted 18 interviews with the president for the book, which goes on sale next week. Trump also granted Woodward access to top officials inside the White House, revealing the inner workings of the president and his administration.
Here are five takeaways.
Trump minimised the risks of the coronavirus to the American public early in the year
Despite knowing that the virus was “deadly” and highly contagious, he often publicly said the opposite, insisting that the virus would go away quickly. “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told Woodward on March 19th. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
And while he was saying publicly that children were “almost immune” to the virus, he told Woodward in March: “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older. Young people too – plenty of young people.”
In April, as he began to urge the country to reopen, Trump told Woodward of the virus, “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”
Two of the president’s top officials thought he was “dangerous” and considered speaking out publicly
Gen Jim Mattis, Trump’s former defence secretary, is quoted describing Trump as “dangerous” and “unfit” for the presidency in a conversation with Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence at the time. Coats himself was haunted by the president’s Twitter feed and believed that Trump’s gentle approach to Russia reflected something more sinister, perhaps that Moscow had “something” on the president.
“Maybe at some point we’re going to have to stand up and speak out,” Mattis told Coats in May 2019, according to the book. “There may be a time when we have to take collective action.”
Ultimately neither official spoke out.
Trump repeatedly denigrated the US military and his top generals
Woodward quoted Trump denigrating senior US military officials to his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, during a 2017 meeting. “They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals,” the president said.
And in a discussion with Woodward, Trump called the US military “suckers” for paying extensive costs to protect South Korea. Woodward wrote that he was stunned when the president said of South Korea, “We’re defending you, we’re allowing you to exist.”
Woodward also reports that Trump chewed out Coats after a briefing with reporters about the threat that Russia presented to the nation’s elections systems. Coats had gone further than he and the president had discussed beforehand.
When asked about the pain “Black people feel in this country”, Trump was unable to express empathy
Woodward pointed out that both he and Trump were “white, privileged” and asked if Trump was working to “understand the anger and the pain, particularly, Black people feel in this country.”
Trump replied, “No,” and added: “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”
Woodward writes that he tried to coax the president into speaking about his understanding of race. But Trump would only say over and over that the economy had been positive for Black people before the coronavirus led to an economic crisis.
Woodward gained insight into Trump’s relationships with the leaders of North Korea and Russia
Trump provided Woodward with the details of letters between himself and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in which the two men fawn over each other. Kim wrote in one letter that their relationship was like a “fantasy film.”
In describing his chemistry with Kim, Trump said: “You meet a woman. In one second, you know whether or not it’s going to happen.”
Trump also complained about the various investigations into ties between his campaign and Russia, saying that they were affecting his abilities as president and his relationship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
“Putin said to me in a meeting, he said, it’s a shame, because I know it’s very hard for you to make a deal with us. I said, you’re right,” Trump said.