Trump seeks to shift scrutiny amid Woodward fallout

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE is going on the offensive after revelations from Watergate journalist Bob Woodward that he deliberately misled the public on the severity of COVID-19.

Both the White House and Trump’s campaign are attempting to change the narrative after excerpts and audio recordings of Trump’s interviews with Woodward showed him admitting to publicly downplaying the threat from the virus despite knowing the danger it posed.

For a second consecutive day, Trump on Thursday called a previously unscheduled news conference, where his comments to Woodward took center stage as reporters pressed the president about whether he misled the American public during crucial stages of the pandemic.

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Trump was insistent that his previous remarks stemmed from a desire to avoid national panic, and he argued that his approach to confronting the virus has been a success.

He claimed Thursday that Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Fox News poll: Biden ahead of Trump in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio MORE would seek a “blanket lockdown” of the country if he became president, and criticized the former vice president’s approach to the swine flu when he served under President Obama.

"When Joe Biden was vice president, his failed approach to the swine flu was disastrous," Trump said. "And now he's telling us how to manage? He can't manage himself."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 12,469 people in the U.S. died of swine flu in 2009. By comparison, the first flu season of Trump’s presidency led to about 61,000 deaths, according to the CDC.

Trump also lashed out at ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl when asked why he lied to the American public about the coronavirus, disputing the premise of the question and calling it a “disgrace.”

“I didn't lie. I said we have to be calm. We can’t be panicked,” Trump replied.

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“I’m not going to jump up and down screaming, ‘death, death,’ because that’s not what it’s all about,” Trump continued, asserting that the United States has possibly “done the best job” in confronting the virus because of his efforts to secure ventilators and a viable vaccine.

Trump’s attempt to subdue the uproar over his comments to Woodward comes less than eight weeks before the election, when many voters will cast ballots based on his administration’s handling of the pandemic.

Trump’s decision to participate in a series of interviews with Woodward that spanned several months has created headaches for the White House, with aides and allies perplexed by why he spoke extensively with the veteran journalist.

Over the last two days, Trump has sought to shift scrutiny to Woodward, insisting the journalist would have released the interview details earlier if he felt it was important for the public to be informed of them immediately.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, attacked Biden, repeating an earlier line that the Democratic nominee was "behind the curve" early in the pandemic, and barely said anything about the virus during his campaign events.

It's an attack Biden's campaign has responded to before.

One of Biden's earliest warnings about the coronavirus came in a USA Today op-ed on Jan. 27, just six days after the first COVID-19 case in the United States was announced.

While Biden did not offer a detailed plan at that point on how to respond to the virus, neither did Trump, and Biden was not privy to the same levels of intelligence that Trump was.

According to Woodward’s book, “Rage,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 interview that he was clearly aware just how dire the situation was, and just how easily the virus could be transmitted.

"You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said during his 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.”

The administration's "15 Days to Slow the Spread" initiative, which recommended people stay at home and advised against gatherings greater than 10 people, wasn't launched until March 16.

Three days later, Trump told Woodward he “wanted to always play it down ... because I don't want to create a panic."

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Trump never issued a nationwide stay-at-home order, and in April began calling for states to reopen as early as possible. Trump has publicly gone after Democratic governors who he views as moving too slowly to reopen.

The Woodward revelations come at a crucial time for Trump and his reelection campaign.

The president is trailing Biden in national and several swing state polls, and surveys show that majorities of voters nationwide disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and do not trust him to tell the truth about the pandemic.

Doug Heye, former communications director for the Republican National Committee, described the revelations as damaging to the Trump campaign because they prevent campaign officials from talking about what they want to talk about just weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

Heye said that Trump’s remarks — which were captured on tape — could lead some independent voters not to vote for him, though Heye noted the universe of undecided voters is much smaller now than it was in 2016.

“There’s not a lot that’s going to drastically move numbers just because people have made up their mind on things,” Heye said.

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While Trump has sought to shift attention away from the virus, it nevertheless has been an overarching issue during the presidential campaign, having killed close to 200,000 people in the U.S. while devastating the economy.

Democrats have been hammering Trump's response to the pandemic, and were quick to seize on the revelations in Woodward's book, which is due out next week.

"We have no confidence in his leadership," Biden said Thursday during a CNN interview. "This caused people to die. It was all about making sure the stock market didn't come down, that his wealthy friends didn't lose any money ... he waved the white flag. He walked away, he didn't do a damn thing."

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish MORE (D-N.Y.) called Trump's comments "despicable" and said they should "serve as a warning to all Americans about who this man is and his total, complete, abject failure to lead."