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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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.”

1:35 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

White House: "The President has never lied to the American public on Covid"

Just moments after audio tapes from journalist Bob Woodward's new book were released, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump has "never lied" to Americans about the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the tapes, Trump on March 19 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 on the tapes.

"The President has never lied to the American public on Covid," McEnany said. "The President was expressing calm and his actions reflect that."

Later in the briefing, McEnany said “The President never down played the virus” directly contradicting the President’s own words.

“The President never down played the virus. Once again, the President expressed calm. The President was serious about this when Democrats were pursuing their sham impeachment. He was expressing calm and he was taking early action and his actions are reflective of how seriously he took Covid,” McEnany said.

Trump told Woodward on March 19: “I wanted to always play it down."

CNN's Kevin Liptak and Jason Hoffman contributed to this report.

WATCH:

1:08 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

NOW: The White House holds a press briefing

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany is holding a press briefing, just after the first details of journalist Bob Woodward's new book have been released.

President Trump knew in early February coronavirus was dangerous, highly contagious, airborne and "deadly," according to an audio recording from Woodward.

The White House press briefing was originally scheduled for noon ET. It was then pushed back to 12:30 p.m. ET.

12:49 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump congratulates GOP House candidates in first tweet after explosive revelations in Woodward's new book

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Trump's first tweet after explosive revelations in Bob Woodward's new book congratulates New Hampshire House candidate Matt Mowers, who won his primary last night.

A subsequent tweet congratulates New Hampshire Senate candidate Corky Messner.

12:48 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump said he knew coronavirus was "deadly stuff" early in pandemic according to new Woodward book

From CNN's Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart

President 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, according to legendary journalist Bob Woodward in his new book "Rage."

"This is deadly stuff," Trump told Woodward on February 7.

In a series of interviews with Woodward, Trump revealed that he had a surprising level of detail about the threat of the virus earlier than previously known. "Pretty amazing," Trump told Woodward, adding that the coronavirus was maybe five times "more deadly" than the flu.

Trump's admissions are in stark contrast to his frequent public comments at the time insisting that the virus was "going to disappear" and "all work out fine."

The book, using Trump's own words, depicts a President who has betrayed the public trust and the most fundamental responsibilities of his office. In "Rage," Trump says the job of a president is "to keep our country safe." But in early February, Trump told Woodward he knew how deadly the virus was, and in March, 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."

If instead of playing down what he knew, Trump had acted decisively in early February with a strict shutdown and a consistent message to wear masks, social distance and wash hands, experts believe that thousands of American lives could have been saved.

The startling revelations in "Rage," which CNN obtained ahead of its September 15 release, were made during 18 wide-ranging interviews Trump gave Woodward from December 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.

"Rage" also includes brutal assessments of Trump's presidency from many of his former top national security officials, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Mattis is quoted as calling Trump "dangerous" and "unfit" to be commander in chief. Woodward writes 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." Woodward continues, writing that Coats felt, "How else to explain the president's behavior? Coats could see no other explanation."