WASHINGTON (CBS SF/AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Wednesday lambasting President Donald Trump after the release of a book detailing how the President downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic while acknowledging to reporter Bob Woodward that it was much worse than his public pronouncements.

Excerpts of Woodward’s book, “Rage” were released on Wednesday, as well as audio recordings Trump made with Woodward which included the president saying he deliberately minimized the danger of COVID-19.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 call with Woodward. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.

Trump told Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said.

In a statement Wednesday, the Pelosi responded to the revelations Trump his the danger of the coronavirus from the public.

“The President’s own words spell out the devastating truth: Trump was fully aware of the catastrophic nature of the coronavirus but hid the facts and refused to take the threat seriously, leaving our entire country exposed and unprepared,” said the House Speaker in a prepared statement.

News of the president’s prior knowledge of how severe the pandemic was comes as the U.S. has just passed 190,000 coronavirus deaths and prompts new questions over how many lives could have been saved had the president been honest with the public and his administration had confronted the pandemic as other countries have done.

On Wednesday, during a press conference to announce a slate of Supreme Court justice nominees should he be re-elected, Trump responded to questions about the book saying he withheld the severity of the pandemic because he did not want to cause any panic.

“We don’t want to instill panic, we don’t want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem [to] scare everybody.”

“It’s just another political hit job,” Trump characterized Woodward’s book to reporters Wednesday. “I gave him some quotes.”

“More than six million Americans have been infected, 190,000 have died and tens of millions are jobless and at risk of hunger and homelessness, said Pelosi. “So much of this pain could have been avoided, but President Trump refused to tell the truth or to act to protect the American people.  The horrifying toll of Trump’s deadly disinformation and negligence in the lives of grieving families and to our economy is a historic national tragedy.”

“Even now, the President still refuses to listen to science and take the action necessary to crush the virus and protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people.  We must have a science-based strategic plan to defeat the coronavirus, as advanced in the Heroes Act that Senate Republicans continue to block.”

The Washington Post, where Woodward serves as associate editor, reported excerpts of the book, “Rage” on Wednesday, as did CNN. The book also covers race relations, diplomacy with North Korea and a range of other issues that have arisen during the past two years.

The book is based in part on 18 interviews that Woodward conducted with Trump between December and July. The book is an unwelcome return to focus on Trump’s handling of the pandemic just as he is trying to project the virus as under control and eager to see a return to normal activity leading up to the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states,” Woodward writes. “There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seized on the book’s allegations that Trump played down the threat of the virus to the public but knew the dangers it posed. Biden called Trump’s handling of the pandemic “beyond despicable.”

“It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace,” Biden said.

 

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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