President Donald Trump launched a new counterattack against The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward on Thursday — arguing the veteran reporter would have released recordings of the president’s remarks about the coronavirus sooner if they were truly politically damaging or revealed a threat to Americans’ safety.
The offensive by the president comes as he continues to face intense criticism in the hours after the Post and other media outlets on Wednesday published excerpts of Trump’s 18 on-the-record interviews with Woodward, conducted for the journalist’s forthcoming book.
Two tapes of the president which have received particular scrutiny were recorded in February and March, as the White House remained publicly dismissive of the outbreak. In those conversations with Woodward earlier this year, however, Trump called the coronavirus “deadly stuff” and acknowledged he was eager to “play … down” the disease.
On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that 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!”
Trump previously defended himself during a White House news briefing at the height of the fallout on Wednesday afternoon, describing Woodward’s reporting as “just another political hit job” and casting himself as a “cheerleader for this country” whose rosy assessments of the outbreak were made in the best interests of the U.S.
“We had to show calm. The last thing we can show is panic or excitement or fear or anything else. We had to take care of the situation we were given,” Trump told reporters, adding that “leadership is all about confidence, and confidence is confidence in our country.”
The president also made an appearance on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show on Wednesday night, boasting that his administration had “done a really good job” and saying: “It’s amazing what we’ve done.”
The number of Americans who have died from the coronavirus surpassed 190,000 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Vice President Mike Pence also moved to defuse the controversy on Thursday, insisting that the president’s remarks to Woodward were consistent with the optimistic language Trump used publicly when talking about the outbreak.
In an interview on Fox News, Pence invoked the British government’s World War II motto of “Keep Calm and Carry On,” and said Trump was seeking to exude “calm and confidence” in addressing Americans during an uncertain time.
“I believe what the president was speaking about with Bob Woodward on March 19 was just the tone that he was projecting,” Pence said. “This is a president who believes that a president of the United States in such moments needs to project strength. You can’t project weakness.”