President Donald Trump told legendary journalist Bob Woodward this spring in recorded interviews that the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was much deadlier than the seasonal flu.
In the same time frame, Trump called the virus a “hoax” perpetuated by Democrats, alleging they’re using it to damage him politically. He has suggested the virus will dissipate on its own or that 99% of cases are “totally harmless” — all demonstrably untrue statements.
Trump’s interview statements, previewed this week by CNN and the Washington Post ahead of Woodward’s forthcoming book, suggest Trump knowingly downplayed COVID-19’s threat to the public. Nearly 192,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to Thursday data from Johns Hopkins University.
Gov. Mike DeWine, asked about Trump’s comments Thursday, did not respond when asked if he believed Trump misled the public.
“I’m going to take the president at face value,” he said.
DeWine characterized Trump as businesslike and receptive when he has called the White House for assistance.
“Whatever we’ve asked them to do, they have tried to do,” he said. “They haven’t been able to do everything. But they have taken this very seriously all the way through.”
The contrast between the two Republicans is stark.
Trump has explicitly urged officials to “slow the testing down” where DeWine has repeatedly lamented testing shortfalls; Trump has refused a national mask mandate while DeWine’s administration has declared a statewide mandate; DeWine regularly highlights infectious disease experts at press briefings while Trump has reportedly stifled or sidelined officials like CDC Director Robert Redfield or National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci.
For all their differences, DeWine has by and large refrained from highlighting any distance between he and the president.
A rare exception arrived in March when DeWine criticized the federal Food and Drug Administration for its quantity limits on an emergency use authorization for Battelle, an Ohio company, to deploy its new technology it says can sterilize N95 respirators. The masks protect the wearer from airborne droplets that could contain COVID-19 and have been in short supply since March. The FDA removed the cap shortly thereafter.
As of Thursday, 4,354 Ohioans have died from COVID-19. More than 134,000 have been infected, some 14,000 of whom were hospitalized.
Following the release of the Woodward excerpts Wednesday, Trump said he downplayed the virus to shield the public from undue fear.
“We want to show confidence, we want to show strength as a nation,” he said.