Hours after it was revealed that President Donald Trump intentionally misled the American public about the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed nearly 200,000 lives nationwide, the president explained his actions by saying that he didn’t “want to scare people.”
The daughter of a Trump supporter who died from COVID-19 told reporters on Thursday morning that she would rather her father have been frightened than dead.
“Sure, my dad did not panic, but instead, he died,” said Kristin Urquiza, founder of Marked By COVID, a group founded in honor of her father, Mark Anthony Urquiza, who died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. “These are serious actions that have resulted in insurmountable, preventable loss of life, and I’d much rather have dealt with a father who was a little scared versus one who was led to his death.”
Urquiza’s remarks, made to reporters on a call hosted by former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, are the latest response to the revelation that Trump privately admitted as early as February that the pandemic was deadlier, more contagious, and posed a greater threat to the American people than anyone knew—but that he had actively downplayed the threat.
“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump told reporter Bob Woodward in a taped conversation on March 19. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
“It goes through the air,” Trump said during that conversation. “That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, 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 flus.”
The news that Trump was aware of the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic at the same time he publicly insisted that the virus was “under control” and that the number of cases in the United States would be “down to close to zero” within days has prompted a frenzied—and at times incoherent—flurry of attempted explanations by the Trump administration.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Wednesday that the president “never downplayed the virus,” despite the release of audiotapes of the president admitting to doing so, and Fox News later that evening saying that he had hidden the truth from the American people for their own good.
“I’m the leader of the country, I can’t be jumping up and down and scaring people,” Trump told Sean Hannity. “I don’t want to scare people. I want people not to panic, and that’s exactly what I did.”
That explanation, Urquiza told reporters, was cold comfort.
“President Trump told us on tape that he was planning to downplay the virus,” Urquiza said. “His words matter, and as I said last month in the Democratic National Convention, my dad’s only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life. That betrayal of my father and our country is even more clear now. The president’s lies are undeniable and inexcusable.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who was also on the call, told reporters that Trump’s decision to lie about the pandemic threat was “the definition of Donald Trump’s phony populism.”
“He sold the American public these lies, then he betrayed them,” Brown said. “He was warned about this virus, and he didn’t do a damned thing.”
Bill Russo, a Biden campaign spokesperson, pointed to the president’s packed rally schedule—he held five of his famous rallies after the time he first told Woodward how great a threat the virus posed—as evidence that “President Trump hid the best public health guidance from the American people.”
“He’s known how deadly COVID-19 was, as we all know, but he never developed a plan of action, and instead waved the white flag of surrender,” Russo said. “He held five mega-rallies… even though he himself knew the danger that is posed to the public.”
But if Trump’s final interview with Woodward in July is any indication, the ultimate responsibility for the pandemic response has never been his anyway.
“The virus has nothing to do with me,” Trump said in that interview. “It’s not my fault. It’s—China let the damn virus out.”