President Trump claimed Tuesday that he “didn’t downplay” the threat of coronavirus, but rather “up-played” it, contradicting both his public comments on the disease and his prior defense of taped interviews with the journalist Bob Woodward in which he admitted to playing it down.

Key Facts

Trump faced considerable backlash over tapes released by the Washington Post columnist Bob Woodward in which the president called the virus deadlier than the flu in February – despite describing it publicly as more mild than flu in March – and admitted to “playing it down” to avoid “panic.”

Trump had publicly said in March that he “knew everything” and “knew it could be horrible” but wanted to be a “cheerleader” and not a “negative person.”

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday denied Trump downplayed the virus, but she was contradicted shortly thereafter by Trump, who said he wanted to project “confidence” and “strength,” and show the U.S. would be “fine, one way or the other.”

But, confronted about downplaying the virus at an ABC News town hall in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Trump said he “didn’t downplay it,” adding, “actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”

Trump cited his ban on travel from China and Europe – measures he frequently points to as examples of ostensibly tough early actions on the virus – claiming “we would’ve lost thousands of more people” had he not instituted the bans, despite the nearly 200,000 Americans who have been killed by the virus, the highest death toll of any nation.

“My action was very strong,” Trump said, claiming his administration “did a very, very good job,” and adding, “whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important.”

Key Background

Trump consistently dismissed the severity of the virus in the early stages of the pandemic, frequently comparing it to the flu and predicting that it would “disappear,” and his administration has been criticized by public health experts for delays, mismanagement and ignoring experts in formulating its response to the pandemic.

Crucial Quote

“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said from the White House Rose Garden on March 24. “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents… I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” 

Big Number

54,000. That’s how many lives Columbia University researchers estimate would have been saved if states had instituted coronavirus mitigation measures two weeks earlier.

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