Newly released audio shows COVID message Trump didn't share with US

The point is not to highlight the contradiction between Trump's public and private rhetoric. What matters is his dishonesty about a life-or-death crisis.
Image: Donald Trump in Oval Office
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office on Aug. 27, 2018.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

As part of the research for his latest book, Bob Woodward had 19 conversations with Donald Trump, and the journalist has indicated that he's prepared to share some of the recordings with the public. Yesterday, for example, CNN aired audio from an April 13 chat between Woodward and the president, in which Trump reflected on the seriousness of the coronavirus.

"This thing is a killer if it gets you. If you're the wrong person, you don't have a chance.... This rips you apart. It is the plague."

With Stephen Colbert, Woodward shared a related recording from the same day in which Trump said, "Bob, it's so easily transmissible, you wouldn't believe it ... I mean you could, you could be in the room ... I was in the White House a couple of days ago, meeting with 10 people in the Oval Office and a guy sneezed -- innocently. Not a horrible ... you know, just a sneeze. The entire room bailed out, OK? Including me, by the way."

At a certain level, it may seem reassuring to know the president recognized the seriousness of the public-health crisis on April 13. The trouble, of course, is that Trump was willing to share these thoughts with Bob Woodward while delivering an entirely different message to the public.

Three days before the Republican made these comments, for example, the president assured Americans that the virus would "soon be in full retreat!" Four days after the Woodward conversation, Trump effectively endorsed civil disobedience in states taking aggressive steps to prevent the spread of a virus the president privately referred to as "the plague."

When President Donald Trump tweeted "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!" on Friday morning, some of his most fervent supporters in far-right communities -- including those who have agitated for violent insurrection -- heard a call to arms. The tweet was one of three sent from the president's account, along with "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" and "LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!"

The point is not just to highlight the contradiction between Trump's public and private rhetoric. Rather, what matters is the president's fundamental dishonesty about a life-or-death crisis.