“I think there was denial across the board,” Woodward told The Post’s Philip Rucker when asked whether White House staffers who also knew about the lethality of the virus denied its severity. He added that Trump is “a one-man band” who is “going to do what he wants to do on impulse or on information he has.”
“He’s a bulldozer to the staff and, quite frankly, to the country,” Woodward said. “And he just says what he wants, and so there’s no control. And this is one of the problems of the Trump presidency, that he doesn’t build a team. He doesn’t plan.”
Trump has criticized the book, calling it “just another political hit job” and told “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning: “I read it very quickly. And it was very boring.”
But he has also acknowledged that he knowingly minimized the danger posed to Americans by the virus, although he insists that his actions did not amount to lying.
Jared Kushner, a White House senior adviser and Trump’s son-in-law, defended the administration’s response to the coronavirus in an interview Tuesday morning on NBC News’s “Today” show.
“The president was very forthcoming with the American people about what he knew and when he knew it,” Kushner said.
One of the steps that Trump has frequently touted amid the pandemic is his decision earlier this year to impose restrictions on travel from China to the United States. But Woodward said Tuesday that the action was actually suggested by others in the administration and did not originate with Trump.
“My reporting shows that it was the doctors and the national security team that told the president that he needed to do this, and he okayed it,” Woodward said. “And if this was such a big deal, he would have gone out and announced it. Instead, he sent the secretary of health and human services, [Alex] Azar, to announce it.”
In the Washington Post Live interview, Woodward was also asked about Kushner’s claim to NBC News earlier Tuesday that Woodward “mischaracterized” who he was referring to when he said, “The most dangerous people around the president are overconfident idiots.”
In his book, Woodward interprets the statement as a reference to former defense secretary Jim Mattis, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn.
Kushner did not deny Tuesday that he was referring to the three officials, but he also did not clarify his remarks. “No, that wasn’t clear. And again, he’s got tapes of everything. I have tapes of everything. So, that was never implied in that regard,” he told NBC News’s Savannah Guthrie.
Woodward responded that it was clear that Kushner was talking about individuals within the administration, and that Trump dismissed both Mattis and Tillerson during interviews.
He added: “I’m quite interested in when Jared says he has tapes. I have tapes. I taped him with his permission. I suspect that he was taping me. He did not extend the courtesy to me that he was taping the conversation. That’s fine, and I report accurately what he said in the book, and there are some much more important quotes from him, quite frankly.”