Book claims Trump ‘wanted to play down coronavirus’

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President Donald Trump seemed to understand the severity of the coronavirus threat even as he was telling the nation that the US government had it totally under control, according to a new book.

"You just breathe the air and that's how it's passed," President Trump said in a February 7 call with journalist Bob Woodward.

"And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flu."

"This is deadly stuff," the president repeated for emphasis.

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President Trump holds a rally in North Carolina
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President Trump holds a rally in North Carolina
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON-SALEM, USA - SEPTEMBER 8: President Trump holds a Make America Great Again campaign rally in Winston-Salem, NC United States on September 8, 2020 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: People sing the National Anthem during a campaign rally with President Donald Trump at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: People cheer after singing the National Anthem during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: A flag depicting President Donald Trump as Supertrump waves in the wind before a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: President Donald Trump addresses a crowd during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: President Donald Trump addresses a crowd during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: A man holds a campaign sign for President Donald Trump during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: A man attempts to pump up the crowd before a campaign rally for President Donald Trump at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 08: People cheer for President Donald Trump during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport on September 8, 2020 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. The president also made a campaign stop in South Florida on Tuesday. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Supporters listen as President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
President Donald Trump stands on stage after speaking at a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
El presidente Donald Trump durante un acto de campaña en el aeropuerto Smith Reynolds, de Winston-Salem, Carolina del Norte, el martes 8 de septiembre de 2020. (AP Foto/Evan Vucci)
Supporters listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Smith Reynolds Airport, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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President Trump told Mr Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimised the danger.

"I wanted to always play it down," the president said.

The Washington Post, where Mr Woodward serves as associate editor, reported excerpts of the book, Rage, on Wednesday.

The book also covers race relations, diplomacy with North Korea and a range of other issues that have arisen during the past two years.

The book is based in part on 18 interviews that Mr Woodward conducted with President Trump between December and July.

"Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilise the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states," Mr Woodward writes.

"There was no real management theory of the case or how to organise a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced."

Trump
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany (Evan Vucci/AP)

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president's words to the public were designed to express confidence and calm at a time of insurmountable challenges.

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

Ms McEnany took questions about the book during a briefing at the White House on Wednesday. She said his actions reflect that he took Covid-19 seriously.

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