- 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)
Republican Congressman Proposes Bill to Ban Anyone Under 16 From Social Media
The proposal comes amid a growing push for social media companies to be stringently regulated for child and adolescent use.
The Social Media Child Protection Act
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Ut.) introduced legislation Thursday that would ban all Americans under the age of 16 from accessing social media.
The proposal, dubbed the Social Media Child Protection Act, would require social media companies to verify users’ ages and give parents and states the ability to bring legal actions against those platforms if they fail, according to a press release.
The legislation would also mandate that social media platforms implement “reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from users and perspective users.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be given the authority to enforce these regulations and implement fines for violations.
Stewart has argued that the move is necessary to protect children from the negative mental health impacts of social media.
“There has never been a generation this depressed, anxious, and suicidal – it’s our responsibility to protect them from the root cause: social media,” he said in a statement announcing the bill.
“We have countless protections for our children in the physical world – we require car seats and seat belts; we have fences around pools; we have a minimum drinking age of 21; and we have a minimum driving age of 16,” the Congressman continued.
“The damage to Generation Z from social media is undeniable – so why are there no protections in the digital world?”
While Stewart’s arguments are nothing new in the ongoing battle around children and regulating social media, his legislation has been described as one of the most severe proposals on this front.
The plan would represent a huge shift in verification systems that critics have long said fall short. Many social media sites like TikTok and Twitter technically ban users under 13 from joining, but there is no formal verification process or mechanisms for enforcement. Companies often just ask users to provide their birthdays, so those under 13 could easily just lie.
Backlash and Support
Stewart — who spent the weeks before the rollout of his bill discussing the matter with the media — has already gotten pushback from many who say the idea is too extreme and a bad approach.
Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of the social media trade group NetChoice, told The Washington Post that such a decision should be left to parents.
“Rather than doomsaying or trying to get between parents and their families, the government should provide tools and education on how best to use this new technology, not demonize it,” he said.
Others have also argued that the move could cut off access to powerful and positive online resources for kids.
“For many kids, especially LGBTQ young people who may have unsupportive parents or live in a conservative area, the internet and social media are a lifeline,” Evan Greer, the director of the advocacy group Fight for the Future, told The Post. “We need better solutions than just cutting kids off from online community and educational resources.”
Lawmakers have also echoed that point, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Ca.), who represents Silicon Valley. However, there also seems to be support for this measure. At least one Democratic Congressmember has told reporters they are open to the idea, and Stewart says he thinks the proposal will have broad bipartisan backing.
“This is bipartisan… There’s Democratic leaders who are actually maneuvering to be the lead co-sponsor on this,” he told KSL News Radio, adding that President Joe Biden recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that referenced similar ideas.
A Growing Movement
Stewart is just one among the growing number of lawmakers and federal officials who have voiced support for keeping kids and younger teens off social media altogether.
In an interview with CNN Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy expressed concern regarding “the right age for a child to start using social media.”
“I worry that right now, if you look at the guidelines from the platforms, that age 13 is when kids are technically allowed to use social media,” he said. “But there are two concerns I have about that. One is: I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early.”
Murthy went on to say that adolescents at that age are developing their identity and sense of self, arguing that social media can be a “skewed and often distorted environment,” adding that he is also worried about the fact that the rules around age are “inconsistently implemented.”
His comments gained widespread backing. At least one Senator posted a tweet agreeing, and an FTC Commissioner also shared the remarks on the platform. Stewart, for his part, explicitly cited Murthy’s remarks in the press release announcing his bill.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KSL News Radio) (CNN)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”