According to legendary journalist Bob Woodward in his new book “Rage,” weeks before the first confirmed U.S. coronavirus death, Donald Trump confessed he recognized that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious, and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” However, he always played it down publicly. Trump told Woodward on February 7, “This is deadly stuff.” Trump showed he had an unexpected level of information about the threat of the virus earlier than previously known in a series of interviews with Woodward. Trump told Woodward, “Pretty amazing,” saying the coronavirus was like five times “more deadly” than the flu.
His confession is in plain contrast to his everyday public comments, where he has been insisting that the virus was “going to disappear” and “all work out fine.” Using Trump’s own words, the book portrays a president who has betrayed the most fundamental responsibilities of his office and the public trust. In “Rage,” Trump stated that the job of a president was “to keep our country safe.” However, in early February, Trump told Woodward he recognized how lethal the virus was.
Moreover, he disclosed he kept that knowledge hidden from the public in March. Trump told Woodward on March 19, “I always wanted to play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
The experts believe that thousands of American lives could have been saved if Trump had acted decisively in early February with a strict shutdown and a consistent message to wear masks, social distance, and wash hands instead of playing down what he knew. The startling revelations in “Rage” were made from December 5, 2019, to July 21, 2020, during 18 wide-ranging interviews that Trump gave Woodward. Trump’s permitted the interviews to be recorded by Woodward. “Rage” also has brutal evaluations of Trump’s presidency from many of his former top national security officials. For example, the former Defense Secretary James Mattis is quoted calling Trump “dangerous” and “unfit” to be commander in chief. Woodward has written 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.”
According to Woodward, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s top infectious disease expert, is quoted saying Trump’s leadership was “rudderless” and that his “attention span is like a minus number. His sole purpose is to get reelected.”
Woodward disclosed new details on the early warnings Trump received and frequently ignored. The national security adviser Robert O’Brien gave Trump a “jarring” warning about the virus in a January 28 top-secret intelligence briefing. He told the President it would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. Woodward writes, Trump’s head “popped up.”
O’Brien’s deputy, Matt Pottinger, had also warned Trump that asymptomatic spread was occurring in China.
Trump announced restrictions on travel from China three days later. Nonetheless, Trump went on to publicly downplay the risk of the virus. Woodward views February as a critical missed chance for Trump to reset “the leadership clock” after he was told this was a “once-in-a-lifetime health emergency.” Woodward writes, “Presidents are the executive branch. There was a duty to warn. To listen, to plan, and to take care.” Trump used high-profile appearances to minimize the threat in the days following the January 28 briefing. Woodward also writes, “to reassure the public they faced little risk.”
In May, Trump equivocated after Woodward asked him if he remembered O’Brien’s January 28 warning that the virus would be the biggest national security threat of his presidency. Trump said. “I’m sure if he said it — you know, I’m sure he said it. Nice guy.” The book shows the way the President accredited himself, and there was no responsibility for his actions related to the pandemic. Trump told Woodward in their final interview in July, “The virus has nothing to do with me. It’s not my fault. It’s — China let the damn virus out. It goes through the air.” On February 7, two days after he was acquitted on impeachment charges by the Senate, Woodward spoke to him, expecting a lengthy conversation about the trial. However, he was surprised by his focus on the virus.
During that time, Trump and his public health officials were saying the virus was “low risk.” Woodward quotes Trump as saying, “We’ve got a little bit of an interesting setback with the virus going in China. It goes through the air. That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air, and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
However, Trump spent most of the time saying that the virus was “very much under control” and that cases in the U.S.would “disappear.” Trump said, “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”
Even in August, Trump continued to insist that children are “almost immune.” Trump was still downplaying the virus at an April 3 coronavirus task force briefing and stating that it would go away. He said, “I said it’s going away, and it is going away.” On April 5, two days later, Trump again told Woodward, “It’s a horrible thing. It’s unbelievable.” On April 13, Trump said, “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.” Woodward carried out hundreds of hours of confidential background interviews with firsthand witnesses for “Rage.” He was able to obtain “notes, emails, diaries, calendars and confidential documents,” together with more than two dozen letters Trump exchanged with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader.
Woodward writes that his information comes either from the person, a colleague with direct knowledge, or documents when he attributes exact quotations, thoughts, or conclusions. One of many revelations in “Rage” is Trump’s conscious downplaying of the coronavirus. The book has anecdotes about top cabinet officials blindsided by tweets, frustrated with Trump’s incapability to pay attention, and scared about his next policy directive. Mattis and Coats discussed if they should take “collective action” to speak out publicly against Trump. After Trump announced that he was withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, Mattis said he ultimately resigned.
Woodward writes that Coats still questions the relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He writes, “Coats saw how extraordinary it was for the President’s top intelligence official to harbor such deep suspicions about the President’s relationship with Putin. But he could not shake them.” On the other hand, in recent days, Trump has been criticized for reportedly making disparaging remarks about U.S. military personnel and veterans. Woodward’s book quotes an aide to Mattis who heard Trump saying in a meeting, “my f—ing generals are a bunch of pussies” as they cared more about alliances than trade deals.
Woodward indicates that amid provocations in 2017, Trump’s national security team voiced their worries that the U.S. might have come close to nuclear war with North Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is quoted as saying, “We never knew whether it was real or whether it was a bluff.” But it was so serious that Mattis frequently went to the Washington National Cathedral to pray and slept in his clothes to be ready in case there was a North Korean launch. Trump boasted about a new secret weapons system saying, “I have built a nuclear — a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before.”
Woodward was able to get the 27 “love letters” Trump exchanged with Kim Jong Un. The letters, filled with flowery language, give a fascinating window into their relationship. Kim praises Trump by frequently calling him “Your Excellency.”
Kim also wrote that the “deep and special friendship between us would work as a magical force.” Besides, Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner are also quoted saying that four texts are crucial to understanding Trump. Kushner rephrased the Cheshire Cat: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.” Though Trump dismissed the U.S. intelligence assessment and defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Woodward pressed Trump on Salman’s role in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In addition, Woodward has highlighted the Black Lives Matter protests. He suggested to the President that people like the two of them, “White, privileged,” should work to comprehend the anger and pain that Black people feel in the U.S. Trump responded, “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you.” He repeated his despicable, illustrating what he has done more for the Black community than any president other than Abraham Lincoln. Woodward writes about new details on Russia’s election meddling. He has stated that the NSA and CIA have categorized evidence the Russians had put malware in the election registration systems of not less than two Florida counties, St. Lucie and Washington.