Trump defends coronavirus response after Woodward interview audio published: 'I don't want to scare people'

President tells 'Hannity' veteran journalist's book 'sounds like it's not going to be good'

President Trump defended comments he made earlier this year about the coronavirus pandemic in interviews with journalist Bob Woodward, telling Fox News' "Hannity" Wednesday that he wanted to "show a calmness."

"I'm the leader of the country, I can't be jumping up and down and scaring people," Trump told host Sean Hannity. "I don't want to scare people. I want people not to panic, and that's exactly what I did."

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Excerpts from some of the interviews, which form the basis of Woodward's forthcoming book, "Rage," were published by The Washington Post earlier Wednesday. In early February, Trump told Woodward that the coronavirus was "deadly stuff" while publicly comparing it to seasonal flu. More than a month later, on March 19, Trump admitted to Woodward that he "wanted to always play it [the virus] down.

"I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic," Trump added at the time.

On Wednesday night, the president condemned Woodward as an author of "hit jobs."

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"He does hit jobs with everybody, he even did it on Obama ... constant hit jobs. On [George W.] Bush, I guess, they did three books, they were all terrible," Trump said. "So I figured, you know, 'Let's give it a little shot, I'll speak to him.' It wasn't a big deal, I speak to him and let's see. I don't know if the book is good or bad, I have no idea. I probably, almost definitely won't read it because I don't have time to read it. But I gave it a little bit of a shot, sounds like it's not going to be good."

Trump also defended his early response to the pandemic, citing his late January decision to limit flights to the U.S. from China, a move Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden panned as in keeping with what he called Trump's "record of hysteria, xenophobia and fear-mongering."

"If you look at the representatives of Joe Biden, you see what they were saying. They were saying 'no problem', 'this won't be a problem,'" Trump told Hannity. "He didn't think it was going to be a problem until months later. He was way late."

The president also recalled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., touring San Francisco's Chintown in late February in an apparent bid to ease fears about the virus.

"Nobody wanted me to do the ban on China, and as you know, shortly thereafter, I [instituted] a ban on [travel from] Europe, and that was even more controversial, and it was good, because I saw what was going on in Italy and in Spain and in France, and we did a ban there," Trump said. "And if we didn't do those bans, we would have had numbers that were much, much [worse]."

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Trump also criticized Democratic governors for keeping their states on lockdown, citing the swing states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

"If you look at some of the states like North Carolina and Pennsylvania -- you look at what they are doing -- they are shut down, they are still shut down," said the president, adding, "it's a shame -- They don't know what they're doing, frankly."