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Trump, Biden respond to report the president knowingly misled the public on pandemic

A new political firestorm has engulfed the White House -- this time over what President Trump knew about the pandemic vs. what he said publicly on the topic. The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward reports Trump privately acknowledged the seriousness of the virus in early February in recorded phone calls and later told Woodward that he was intentionally downplaying it to Americans. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new political firestorm has broken out at the Trump White House tonight, as wildfires ravage much of the West Coast.

    First to what the president knew, and what he said publicly, as the COVID-19 pandemic began.

    It's recounted in a new book by Bob Woodward.

    John Yang begins our coverage.

  • John Yang:

    In a recorded interview on February 7, before the full effect of the coronavirus in the United States was publicly clear, President Trump told Washington Post editor Bob Woodward that he knew it is deadlier than the flu.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The air, you just breathe the air, and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one.

    It's also more deadly than your — your — even your strenuous flus.

    This is more deadly. This is 5 per — this is 5 percent vs. 1 percent and less than 1 percent. So this is deadly stuff.

  • John Yang:

    That stands in contrast with his public statements at the time.

    This is the president three days after that interview:

  • President Donald Trump:

    Looks like, by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that's true.

  • John Yang:

    In March, President Trump told Woodward he was deliberately downplaying the coronavirus' seriousness.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I wanted to — I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down…

  • Bob Woodward:

    Yes, sir.

  • President Donald Trump:

    … because I don't want to create a panic.

  • John Yang:

    Campaigning in Warren, Michigan, Democratic nominee Joe Biden weighed in.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:

    He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat posed to the country for months. He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.

  • John Yang:

    President Trump defended his comments at a White House event to name potential future Supreme Court nominees.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The fact is, I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic, as you say.

    And, certainly, I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength. We want to show strength as a nation.

  • John Yang:

    According to a new NBC News/Marist poll out today, Biden is leading President Trump in Pennsylvania by nine points, and, in Florida, the two are in a virtual tie.

    And, on Tuesday, the Trump campaign announced that, in August, it had raised $210 million jointly with the Republican National Committee. That's their best month to date, but still well below Biden and the Democratic National Committee's $364 million in August.

    On Thursday, President Trump hits the trail himself, heading to Michigan.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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