The first excerpts from Washington Post editor Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book on the presidency of Donald Trump made news Wednesday with the revelations that Trump was aware in February that the coronavirus was highly contagious and much deadlier than the flu, and that he sought to downplay the threat to the American public.
The Washington Post and CNN both reported on the excerpts and posted selections of recorded interviews between Trump and Woodward, which allowed listeners to hear firsthand how Trump was privately reacting to world events, from the coronavirus to protests against racial injustice.
Here’s a look at what we learned from the excerpts and audio.
Trump told Bob Woodward as early as February that he knew the coronavirus was much more deadly than the flu, and highly contagious.
Trump acknowledged privately as early as February that the coronavirus was much deadlier than the flu and was highly contagious, even as he later played down the threat to the American people and urged states to reopen businesses, according to audio of an interview with Bob Woodward reported on by The Washington Post on Wednesday.
“It goes through air, Bob, that’s always tougher than the touch,” Trump said during the interview in February, apparently referring to reports that COVID-19 could spread through the air, rather than through touching contaminated surfaces. “It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
“This is deadly stuff,” he said.
Trump told Woodward in a later interview that he wanted to play down the coronavirus threat.
A month later, during a separate interview on March 19, Trump also discussed his public messaging on the virus, telling Woodward he wanted to play down the threat.
“I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward.
After the comments sparked a backlash, Trump and his defenders in the administration claimed that Trump was simply trying to avoid causing a panic.
“Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy,” Trump told reporters at the White House Wednesday. “We want to show confidence, we want to show strength, we want to show strength as a nation.”
Top officials in the Trump administration discussed ‘collective action.’
Woodward wrote in his book that then-top members of Trump’s Cabinet feared for the nation’s future and contemplated unspecified “collective action,” because they felt the president was a danger to the nation.
According to Woodward, former defense secretary Jim Mattis went to the Washington National Cathedral to pray for the nation’s future under Trump as commander-in-chief, and at one point told Dan Coats, who at the time served as director of national intelligence, that “there may come a time when we have to take collective action” because Trump is “dangerous. He’s unfit.”
Discussing the president’s struggle to tell the truth, Woodward wrote that Mattis told Coats, “The president has no moral compass.”
“True. To him, a lie is not a lie," Coats replied, according to Woodward. “It’s just what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.”
Trump also expressed disdain for the top members of the US military, according to Woodward, complaining about them to trade adviser Peter Navarro in vulgar language.
“Not to mention my [expletive] generals are a bunch of [expletive],” he said, using a misogynistic term for women. “They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals.”
Trump said he doesn’t feel responsibility for understanding the pain of Black Americans.
As protests following the death of George Floyd swelled around the country, Woodward asked Trump if he felt that his privilege as a wealthy white person had placed him in a “cave” that he needed to break out of to better understand the pain of Black Americans.
“No. You really drank the Kool-aid, just listen to you, wow,” Trump replied. “ No, I don’t feel that at all.”
Days later, Woodward and Trump spoke about the issue of race again, and Woodward asked Trump whether he thought there was systemic racism in America.
“Well, I think there is everywhere,” Trump said. “I think probably less here than most places. Or less here than many places.”
Asked by Woodward whether racism “is here” in the United States in a way that affects people’s lives, Trump replied: “I think it is. And it’s unfortunate. But I think it is.”
In his book, Woodward said Trump had agreed to be interviewed, but soon began calling him at night, according to The Washington Post. Trump also called Woodward to boast about his handling of protesters in Lafayette Square, who had been forcibly removed so the president could hold a photo op at St. Johns Church.
“We’re going to get ready to send in the military slash National Guard to some of these poor bastards that don’t know what they’re doing, these poor radical lefts,” Trump told Woodward.
Trump tells Woodward the US has a secret weapons system
Trump disclosed to Woodward that the United States has a secret weapons system that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping “have never heard about before.” Sources who spoke to Woodward were surprised to hear that Trump had told him about it, according to the excerpts.
“I have built a nuclear — a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody — what we have is incredible,” Trump said.
Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Fox News' “Special Report” on Wednesday that the president did not talk about any specific weapon system. “We’re always on the cutting edge and we’ve always got something out there that our adversaries don’t know about,” O’Brien said.
Trump claimed that Kim Jong Un described the murder of Kim’s uncle in detail.
Woodward wrote that Trump boasted of his relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and claimed that Kim “tells me everything," including what was described as a graphic account of the murder of Kim’s uncle.
According to the excerpts, Woodward obtained letters between Trump and Kim, in which the dictator flatters Trump with compliments and addresses him as “Your Excellency.” Kim wrote that he believed the “deep and special friendship between us will work as a magical force.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.