President Donald Trump was asked directly on Thursday why he lied to the American people about the coronavirus pandemic.
The beginning of Trump’s response: “I didn’t lie.”
That itself is a lie.
Trump admitted to journalist Bob Woodward in a March interview, for Woodward’s new book “Rage,” that he had played down the severity of the situation to try to avoid a public panic. And he told Woodward in a February interview that the coronavirus was deadlier than even “strenuous flus” – then went out weeks later and falsely told the public that the coronavirus “is a flu” and “like a flu.”
Trump said again on Thursday that he had just wanted to keep Americans “calm.” Regardless of how benign or malign his intentions were, however, deliberately giving people inaccurate information is a lie.
Trump’s February comments about the flu were, of course, not his only false claims about the extent of the crisis. Into March and then again in late July, Trump was still claiming, against all evidence, that the pandemic was under “control.”
Trump issued his Thursday denial during a White House event that was billed as a “news conference” but that began with a lengthy campaign speech devoted in large part to an attack on his election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump also made a number of other false or misleading claims, some of them about Biden.
Deaths in Afghanistan
Trump said: “I got a report this morning that there’s been nobody killed in Afghanistan since early February. A long time. Been no deaths, no problems.”
Facts First: Trump would have been correct if he had said no US soldiers had been killed “in combat” or “by the enemy” since February, but he was incorrect that there have been “no deaths” at all. Two US soldiers died in non-combat incidents in July. Another died in a non-combat incident in May.
Spc. Vincent Sebastian Ibarria, 21, died in a vehicle rollover in July, according to the Pentagon. 1st Lt. Joseph Trent Allbaugh, 24, died in another non-combat incident in July. 1st Lt. Trevarius Ravon Bowman, 25, died in a non-combat incident in May.
This is not to mention the Afghan civilians and members of the Afghan security forces who have been killed in violent incidents since February.
Biden and vaccines
Trump accused Biden of having “launched a public campaign against the vaccine.” He then suggested that Biden’s comments were something like “being an anti-vaxxer.”
Facts First: This is at least an exaggeration. Biden has not expressed any general anti-vaccine sentiment or expressed opposition to a coronavirus vaccine. Rather, on Monday, he emphasized that he wants to listen to scientists about a coronavirus vaccine, and receive “full transparency,” rather than simply take the word of the Trump administration.
He added, “But pray God we have it. If I could get a vaccine tomorrow, I’d do it. If it cost me the election, I’d do it. We need a vaccine and we need it now … we have to listen to the scientists.”
Vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris told CNN that she would have to hear from “a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about,” saying she would “not trust Donald Trump.”
Biden and shutdowns
Trump accused Biden of having a “strategy” to “shut down the entire country,” then accused Democrats of pursuing a “very unscientific blanket lockdown.” Trump then acknowledged that “they did say it would be based on the recommendation of the experts.”
Facts First: It’s not true that Biden has a “strategy” to shut down the country or that the Democratic Party more broadly is seeking such an approach. Rather, Biden said in an August interview that he would follow the advice of scientists if they advised him to shut down the country if the combination of the coronavirus and the flu created a severe crisis in 2021.
Biden then said in early September that he thinks there will be “no need” to “shut down the whole economy.”
Trump did concede by the end of the event that Biden was talking about listening to experts. But that didn’t come until minutes after he falsely suggested Biden was himself proposing a shutdown.
You can read a longer fact check here.
Again touting his response to the coronavirus, Trump repeated his frequent claim that he inherited “no ventilators.”
Facts First: This is just wrong. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to CNN in late June that there had been about 19,000 ventilators in the national stockpile for “many years,” including 16,660 ventilators that were ready for immediate use in March 2020; the spokesperson confirmed that none of those 16,660 were purchased by the Trump administration.
You can read a longer fact check here.
Travel restrictions on China and Europe
Trump repeated his regular claims that he had put a “ban” on travel from China and from Europe because of the coronavirus.
Facts First: Trump was exaggerating. Both his travel restrictions on China and his travel restrictions on Europe exempted citizens, permanent residents, and many family members of both groups. Also, the restrictions on Europe exempted some entire European countries.