- In a series of interviews with well-known journalist Bob Woodward, conducted between Dec. 2019 to July 2020, Donald Trump admitted to downplaying the threat of COVID-19.
- “I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said in a March 19 interview. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
- In addition to outrage over the newly-released audio, many have also criticized Woodward for not releasing the tapes sooner, arguing that they could have saved lives.
- Woodward has defended himself by saying he was unable to verify the information from Trump until May and that he waited to publish the interviews as a complete picture so that they would have a greater impact.
Trump Admits to Downplaying Virus in Audio Tapes
Newly-released audio between President Donald Trump and veteran reporter Bob Woodward has become a major flashpoint over the last 24 hours, particularly because that audio showcases Trump admitting to publicly downplaying the threat of COVID-19.
“To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said in a recorded interview from March 19. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Woodward conducted that interview and 17 others between Dec. 5, 2019, and July 21, 2020, as part of research for his new book Rage, set to release on Sept. 15. The audio of those interviews was made public Wednesday after several major media outlets obtained copies of the book.
While Trump and Woodward also discussed subjects like the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as Trump’s relationships with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin, the most damning material made public thus far has related to Trump’s comments surrounding the pandemic.
“It’s also more deadly than your — you know, even your strenuous flus,” Trump said to Woodward on Feb. 7. “You know, people don’t realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?”
“This is more deadly,” he added. “This is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff.”
Despite those then-private (but still on-the-record) comments to Woodward, in late February, Trump was still comparing COVID-19 to the seasonal flu.
“People die from the flu, and this is very unusual,” Trump said at a press conference. “And it is a little bit different, but in some ways, it’s easier, and in some ways, it’s a little bit tougher. But we have it so well under control.”
“I mean, view this the same as the flu. When somebody sneezes, I mean, I’d try and bail out as much as possible.
“It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for,” Trump also said.
In the March 19 interview, Trump also notes:“Now, it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob,” Trump said. “Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just older [people]. Young people too, plenty of young people.”
In an April interview, Trump told Woodward that the virus was “so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”
Those comments also come despite the fact that Trump repeatedly and publicly assured Ameircans that the virus would soon go away.
“It’s going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month,” Trump said on March 31, “and if not, it hopefully will be soon after that.”
Reaction to Woodward Audio
The reaction to the audio has been strong, both from those criticizing the president and those defending him.
“Donald Trump knew,” Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden said. “He lied to us for months. And while a deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job — on purpose. It was a life or death betrayal of the American people.”
“…this is not just dereliction of duty by @POTUS,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Ca.) said. “Trump repeatedly lied to the American people and that resulted in preventable deaths. This is reckless homicide.”
“Mass preventable death,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hi.) echoed.
Many conservative and Republican figures, however, largely defended Trump, though some, such as Ben Shapiro, did offer a partial rebuke of Trump’s language.
“I am still waiting to hear what Democrats say they would have done differently on covid other than not say such dumb things (which is a thing, but not the main thing in fighting covid, as it turns out),” the commentator said.
On Fox News Wednesday night, Sean Hannity went even further by asserting that Trump had not lied to the American people.
“Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: President Trump has never misled or distorted the truth about this deadly truth. No, he acted faster than anyone else,” Hannity said.
In a similar statement, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Wednesday as the news broke, “The president never downplayed the virus.” Still, Trump’s own answer from the March 19 interview directly contradicts this.
Why Didn’t Woodward Release the Audio Sooner?
The outrage surrounding Trump wasn’t the only major reaction from Wednesday. Many people also wondered why it took so long for Woodward to release the interviews.
As the day went on, frustration directed at Woodward continued to mount, with many claiming that this information could have saved lives if it had came out earlier.
Even Thursday morning, Trump asked, “Bob 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!”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Woodward explained his decision, telling the outlet that he didn’t immediately publish that information because he didn’t know what Trump’s source of information was.
“The biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true,” Woodward noted.
In fact, according to The Post, “In February, what Trump told Woodward seemed hard to make sense of…. back then, Woodward said, there was no panic over the virus; even toward the final days of that month, Anthony S. Fauci was publicly assuring Americans there was no need to change their daily habits.”
Woodward also said that it wasn’t until May when he learned that the information had come from a high-level intelligence briefing back in January. But, of course, that’s May. This audio didn’t come out until September, so the question persisted: Why wait until now?
To that end, Woodward told The Post that his purpose isn’t to write daily stories but to give his audience the big picture, one that he believes might have a greater impact. Instead of rushing small bits of information, Woodward said he wanted to deliver “the best obtainable version of the truth.”
At a White House event on Wednesday, Trump responded to the criticism after a reporter asked him, “Did you mislead the public by saying that you downplayed the coronavirus and that you repeatedly did that in order to reduce panic? Did you mislead the public?”
“Well, I think if you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that’s so,” Trump said. “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.”
“I’m a cheerleader for this country … I don’t want people to be frightened” — Trump tries to explain why he misled the public about how bad coronavirus is pic.twitter.com/xUBnoVpHSN— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 9, 2020
Still, many have argued that informing the American public of the dangers of COVID-19 when those dangers are known is not simply spreading bad news; rather, they have said it is about telling people about the severity of the situation so that they can properly protect themselves.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (New York Post)
Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event
The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.
Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.
The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.
The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.
“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.”
The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.
“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.
“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”
The Age Maximum Question
Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.
Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.
While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.
These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.
There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.
What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.
As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.
Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.
However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (NBC News)
Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds
In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.
A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse
More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.
Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.
All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.
“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”
“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.
“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”
Abuses Go Unreported
Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.
Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.
Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.
In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.
In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.
The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Deseret) (Standard Examiner)
Texas AG Ken Paxton Allegedly Flees Official Serving Subpoenas in Truck
Following the news, a judge granted the attorney general’s request to quash the subpoenas.
Paxton on the Run
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his own home in a truck Monday morning to evade an official trying to serve him a subpoena, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Last month, several nonprofits filed a lawsuit seeking to block Texas from charging individuals under the state’s abortion ban in cases that happened out of state or prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned.
Two subpoenas were issued summoning Paxton to a Tuesday court hearing, one for his professional title and the other addressed to him personally.
Early on Monday Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, knocked on the front door of Paxton’s home in McKinney and was greeted by Texas state senator Angela Paxton, who is the Attorney General’s wife.
According to the affidavit, Herrera identified himself and informed her that he was delivering court documents to Mr. Paxton. She responded that her husband was on the phone and in a hurry to leave, so Herrera returned to his vehicle and waited for Ken to emerge.
Nearly an hour later, the affidavit states, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, the attorney general stepped out.
“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name,” Herrera wrote in the affidavit. “As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage.”
Shortly afterward, Angela exited the house and climbed into a truck in the driveway, leaving a rear driver-side door open.
“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him.”
“Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck,” he continued.
The affidavit adds that Herrera placed the documents on the ground by the vehicle and stated that he was serving a subpoena, but the Paxtons drove away.
Process Server or Lingering Stranger?
Following the publication of the affidavit in The Texas Tribune, Ken attacked the news outlet on Twitter and claimed to fear for his safety.
“This is a ridiculous waste of time and the media should be ashamed of themselves,” he wrote. “All across the country, conservatives have faced threats to their safety – many threats that received scant coverage or condemnation from the mainstream media.”
“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he continued.
On Monday, the attorney general filed two requests: a motion to quash the subpoena and another to seal the certificates of service, which included the affidavit.
His lawyers argued that Herrera “loitered at the Attorney General’s home for over an hour, repeatedly shouted at him, and accosted” him and his wife.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted both requests on Tuesday.
In a statement, the attorney general said that Herrera is “lucky this situation did not escalate further or necessitate force.”