Donald Trump‘s chief of staff Mark Meadows says he would not have advised the president to give interviews to Bob Woodward if he had been in post at the time.
Trump is under pressure after Woodward’s interviews revealed how the president played down the threat of the coronavirus despite knowing in February that it was ‘deadly stuff’.
The president gave 18 interviews to the Watergate journalist between December and July, while Meadows became his chief of staff in March – telling Fox News that Woodward’s access ‘is probably something that I would not have recommended had I been in the chief of staff role early on’.
However, Meadows insisted that ‘this president was consistent in saying that we needed to do everything we could… he shut down literally the economy on the advice of doctors’.
Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows (pictured) says he would not have advised the president to give interviews to Bob Woodward if he had been in post at the time
Trump (pictured) is under pressure after Woodward’s interviews revealed he had minimized the threat of the coronavirus pandemic despite knowing it was ‘deadly stuff’
Defending Trump’s response to the virus outbreak, Meadows said: ‘What you don’t want to do is create panic.
‘But at the same time, it was an all-hands-on-deck. Not only did that happen in January and February but when I came on board in March, it was an around-the-clock vigilant effort to make sure that this president did everything he could to address it.
‘I can also say that what we know now about the virus is very different than what we knew at the time.’
He added that Trump ‘has been one of the most transparent presidents as it came to dealing with this situation, whether it’s on a phone call with Woodward or anyone else’.
Woodward’s interviews were part of the source material for his new book Rage, due to be published next week.
On February 7, Trump told Woodward that the virus ‘goes through the air’ – despite playing down the use of masks until much later and saying on the same day that the virus might disappear when the weather improved.
‘You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one,’ Trump said. ‘That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus. This is deadly stuff.’
In another interview on March 19, Trump discussed the virus again and said openly that ‘I wanted to always play it down’.
‘I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,’ he said in the taped conversation.
Watergate journalist Bob Woodward (pictured) spoke to the president in 18 interviews for his book Rage
Speaking at the White House last night, Trump defended his comments and denounced Woodward’s book as ‘another political hit job’.
‘The fact is I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country and I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic,’ Trump told reporters.
‘Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength.’
Woodward’s book Rage is his second on Trump after the 2018 volume Fear
Renewing his attack today, he wrote on Twitter: ‘Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months.
‘If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!’.
Woodward himself has come under criticism in some quarters for keeping the controversial quotes to himself until now.
He has defended his decision to hold off by saying he needed time to make sure Trump’s private comments were true.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden seized on the revelations while campaigning in Michigan on Wednesday, calling Trump’s comments a ‘life and death betrayal of the American people’.
‘He knew how deadly it was,’ Biden said. ‘He lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.’
But Dr Anthony Fauci, who has sometimes clashed with Trump, defended Trump and said he did not ‘recall anything that was any gross distortion in things that I spoke to him about’.
Trump was keen to stop the country from getting ‘down and out,’ the country’s top diseases expert said.
According to Bob Woodward (center, sitting), sometimes he would get unexpected phone calls after 9pm from the president (left, sitting)
Discussing Trump’s response to the pandemic, Woodward says in his book: ‘Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states.
‘There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced.’
The US has by far the highest death toll in the world from Covid-19, with more than 189,000 fatalities from 6.3million cases.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that the huge tally of infections in the US is merely a result of more widespread testing.
Excerpts from Woodward’s book were reported on Wednesday by the Washington Post, where Woodward made his name, and by CNN.
The book is a follow-up to the 2018 volume Fear, and to a long line of presidential biographies by the 77-year-old journalist.
Trump was not interviewed for the first book, but revealed in January that he had sat down with Woodward for the second.