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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6:59 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump reacts to downplaying Covid-19, says he didn't want to create panic

President Trump responded to recordings that show he downplayed the coronavirus pandemic, saying he wanted to show strength and didn't want to "create panic."

"I don't want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We can to show strength," the President said.

According to an audio recording from veteran journalist Bob Woodward, Trump said he "wanted to always play it down" and that he knew the virus was airborne and deadly since February.

"The job we've done has been incredible. But we don't want to instill panic. We don't want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem, scare everybody," he added.

When asked if lives would have been saved if he had been more upfront about the dangers of the virus, the President touted the administration's efforts, saying "I think we've done from every standpoint an incredible job."

"If we didn't close the country, we would have been talking about millions of people instead of the numbers that we have right now," Trump said.

Watch Trump's response:

3:52 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

White House didn't know Woodward excerpts were dropping today

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

White House officials were unaware that excerpts of Bob Woodward's book would be published as soon as today.

They thought they could come out closer to Tuesday, when "Rage" will officially be released. White House officials also do not have a copy, so they do not know what else is in it, according to a source. 

3:26 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Journalist who broke Watergate scandal: This is "maybe the greatest presidential felony" of all time

Carl Bernstein, the journalist who broke the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, said new reporting that shows President Trump saying that he knew the coronavirus was deadly and that he "always wanted to play it down" is "one of the great presidential felonies of all time."

"We listen to him cover up this grave national emergency. This is one of the great presidential felonies of all time – maybe the greatest presidential felony, and we have the smoking gun tape of the President committing the felony," Bernstein told CNN on Wednesday.

Bernstein said through his handling of the pandemic, the President minimized the interest of the county, adding the President should have addressed the country with the information about the severity of the virus when he found out about it in February.

"What you hear time and time again is the President forgetting about the national interest, selling out the national interest, minimizing the national interest, and putting in his own interest, that of his family, that of his own finances," he said.

"That is the text of this book, not a subtext. It's the text of those tapes – undermining our well-being deliberately for his own ends. It is stunning and as I say, a presidential felony unlike any we've known of in our history," Bernstein added.

Bernstein said that if Republican leaders try to contradict the tapes, "they too are responsible for what has happened here."

"This is a kind of homicidal negligence. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people have lost their lives because the President put his own re-election interest," he said.

Watch the interview:

4:13 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Doctor: "Deaths of tens of thousands of Americans" on Trump's hands

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, director of Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at The George Washington University Hospital, slammed President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic following revelations from Bob Woodward's new book, "Rage," that Trump had concealed the true threat posed by Covid-19.

"Time and time again the President told the public this was nothing. It was going away. He called it the flu... If there's a tornado coming towards a town and you tell the people in that town it's just a little bit of wind, people are going to die. So there was a tornado heading towards the United States at the end of January and the President told us it was all just going to blow away," Reiner told CNN's Brianna Keilar.

Reiner added that the President should resign. He said that Trump continues to encourage behaviors that put people in danger.

“Until this day the President still tacitly encourages his supporters not to wear a mask. But he’s known since January that this is a respiratory pathogen. He’s place his interest ahead of the county’s," he said.

Reiner said that the current death toll from the pandemic is because of Trump's leadership.

"The deaths of tens of thousands of Americans are on this man’s hands,” he said.

Watch the interview:

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.