WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 09: U.S. President Donald Trump reveals his list of potential Supreme Court nominees in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on September 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump also fielded questions about the coronavirus and Bob Woodward's new book about him. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump admitted to downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic despite having evidence to the contrary, newly published interviews with noted investigative journalist Bob Woodward revealed. 

According to the interviews, Trump knew the virus was dangerous in January. 

“It goes through the air,” Trump said during a Feb. 7 interview with Woodward. “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. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

At a White House press briefing on Thursday, Sept. 10, Trump was confronted over his lies. 

“Why did you lie to the American people? And why should we trust what you have to say now?”  asked ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl.

“I didn’t lie, what I said was we had to be calm, we can’t be panicked,” Trump responded. 

He was then asked whether he would stop downplaying the threat of COVID-19.

“I don’t want to jump up and down and scream ‘death,’ because that’s not what it’s about,” Trump said. 

There have been more than 190,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States while Trump and his campaign push conspiracy theories that the 2020 elections are being rigged against him and Antifa is coming to the suburbs.

Despite knowing about the threat back in January, Trump diminished the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, pushed states to reopen quickly, and has packed campaign events while flouting local social distancing guidelines. A week after the Feb. 7 interview, Trump said at a White House briefing that the number of U.S. coronavirus cases “within a couple days is going to be down close to zero.”

On Feb. 28, Trump referred to coronavirus as Democrats’ “new hoax.”

Spreading fear and panic over exaggerated or invented threats has been a hallmark of Trump’s presidency.

Eight minutes after tweeting on Thursday morning that his public comments about COVID-19 were to maintain “calm, no panic,” Trump tweeted mail-in ballots were a “total fraud in the making.” Trump has claimed, without evidence, that absentee ballots were “rigged” against him, and said he may not accept the election results if he loses.

One hour later, Trump again tweeted the baseless conspiracy theory that Democrats will allow suburbs to be overrun by “anarchists” and “protesters.”

Later in Thursday’s press conference Trump said, “If Bob Woodward thought it was bad he should have immediately gone out publicly, not waited four months.”

Woodward was widely criticized for not publishing Trump’s comments when they were recorded, or when Trump’s public comments contradicted what he’d told Woodward in interviews, but instead waiting to release them with his upcoming book. As a pandemic raged and Trump continued to mislead the public about its dangers, Woodward continued reporting. Woodward said in an interview with The Washington Post that he didn’t have an agreement to withhold Trump’s comments until the publication of his book.

“I told him it was for the book,” he said, but as far as promising not to publish in real time, or signing such an agreement, “I don’t do that.”

Woodward said his aim was to provide a fuller context than could occur in a news story: “I knew I could tell the second draft of history, and I knew I could tell it before the election.” 

60 Minutes correspondent Wesley Lowery responded: “When the president of the United States is publicly underplaying the seriousness of a global pandemic and at times encouraging people to go to rallies/reopen businesses, while only privately acknowledging how deadly the virus is, the potential urgency to report should be obvious.”

This raises the question whether Woodward and the corporate media is holding the powerful accountable, or seeking ratings and profits at any cost. 

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.