When journalist Bob Woodward asked President Donald Trump how he saw his job, “He said, ‘to protect the people.’” But, Woodward told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff on Thursday, “He failed in that and he failed to tell the truth. Tragically.”
Based on hours of personal interviews with Trump, as well as with other sources from his administration, Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” details how the president was informed about the gravity of the pandemic long before it reached America, but did not act on that knowledge, leaving the nation unprepared when it arrived.
When it comes to whether Trump feels that he has handled the pandemic well, Woodward said, “I’m not sure the truth matters.”
In the book, Woodward reports that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield had assessed the virus as it spread through China, and found, Woodward said, that “this is not going to be something that goes away or is dealt with in six months or a year. It is going to be a two- or three-year fight.”
“And that’s exactly what President Trump knew and did not tell us,” Woodward said. “One hundred and ninety-five thousand people have died from this on his watch,” referencing the number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths.
Even as the virus spread in the U.S., Woodward claims Trump seemed uninterested in the crisis. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, reportedly said Trump’s “attention span is like a minus number.”
Woodward expressed concern for the ongoing pandemic response as flu season approaches.
“All the people who know the most about [the virus] say in the coming months, it’s going to converge with the flu and we are going to have a hail storm and a hurricane all at once.”
Other highlights from the interview:
- On racial justice protests: Amid a wave of protests ignited by the deaths of Black Americans, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, at the hands of police officers, Woodward said he confronted Trump on racism within the nation and white privilege and received a dismissive reaction. While Trump acknowledged that racism did exist in America, Woodward said, he was unwilling to understand the hardships Black people face in the country. “I said to the president, ‘That’s your job. You’ve got to understand people. You’ve got to get in other people’s shoes.’ And he said, well, he likes to be in his own shoes.” Woodward said this was part of the “calamity of this presidency,” that he won’t listen or understand the pain Americans are feeling.
- On Trump and Russia: For his book, Woodward also spoke with then-Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who said he believed that Russia had something on the president, based on the intelligence and the way Trump responded to Putin. “Coats did not find evidence or proof of this,” Woodward said. “But he continued to harbor the absolute conviction that Putin did have something on Trump.” Coats was not the only high-level former Trump administration official to share concerns with Woodward during the course of interviews for the book. Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reportedly said, “The president has no moral compass” and said that as in his role, Mattis “was often trying to impose reason over impulse.”
- On Trump’s reelection bid: Trump’s rhetoric about the November election has fueled some concerns that he may not accept the results if he loses. Woodward said that Trump’s lack of respect for norms is what made him popular in the first place: “He’s different. Of course he’s different. He was elected to be different. We shouldn’t be surprised at that at all.” When asked if Woodward believed Trump cares about the American people, he said, “Well, I think he’s not heartless. I think he’s driven toward reelection.”