Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden charges that President Trump “knowingly and willingly lied” to the nation about the severity of the coronavirus in the weeks before the pandemic swept the nation.

The former vice president – topping an economic speech at a United Auto Workers headquarters in Warren, Mich., on Wednesday -- pointed to reporter Bob Woodward's new book, which claims that the president told the longtime Washington Post journalist in February that he knew the coronavirus was “deadly” but went to great lengths to downplay the virus in public.


Spotlighting the rising national death toll from the coronavirus, Biden stressed that “on the day that we hit 190,000 dead in the United States because of COVID-19, we just learned from the Washington Post columnist Bob Woodward that the president of the United States has admitted on tape in February he knew about COVID-19, that it passed through air.”

Woodward reports that the president intentionally downplayed coronavirus in order to avoid creating a panic and gave the public a rosy assessment despite what he knew privately.

“He knew how deadly it was. It was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to country for months,” Biden emphasized.

And Trump’s Democratic challenger charged that the president “knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people. … It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”

The former vice president for months has charged that Trump initially downplayed the pandemic’s severity – and has also repeatedly accused the president of mismanaging the federal government’s response to the outbreak.


The president has pushed back, pointing to his early banning of flights from China – where the virus originated – and his administration’s handling of testing and supplying ventilators and personal protective equipment to those on the front lines.

But Trump did say repeatedly in Feburary and early March that the outbreak was under control.

"The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries," the president tweeted on Feb. 24.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the country has topped 6.3 million people. The U.S. has recorded more cases and deaths than any other nation. And millions remain unemployed after much of the economy was initially shut down in the spring to prevent the spread of the virus.

Trump reelection campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh, responding to Biden’s comments, told Fox News, “Joe Biden has done nothing but sit on the sidelines and suggest actions that the president has already taken, and has offered nothing but hyperpartisan, useless criticisms. If Biden had been warning people about the virus since January as he claims, why did he continue holding campaign rallies as normal into the second week of March?”

Biden’s comments came as Woodward’s reporting was going viral. According to Woodward, the president received a warning from national security adviser Robert O’Brien on Jan. 28 that the coronavirus epidemic would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency.

“The president reportedly told Woodward in a Feb. 7 call, 'You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. 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 Washington Post reported.

“This is deadly stuff,” the president added.

The quotes came from recordings from Woodward conversations with the president that were made available Wednesday on the Post’s website.

Trump on March 19 told Woodward, “I wanted to always play it down.” He had declared a national emergency over the virus days earlier, but also said, “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

The Trump campaign and the White House also pointed to comments made Wednesday by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the most visible and well-known member of the president’s task force on the coronavirus.

"No, no. I didn't get any sense that he was distorting anything," Fauci said in an interview on Fox News "The Daily Briefing," when asked if the president was playing down the severity of the coronavirus.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday also defended the president, telling reporters that “when you are facing insurmountable challenges, it is important to express confidence, it is important to express calm.”

On why Trump sat down with Woodward, McEnany said Wednesday it was because he has been the “most transparent president in history.”