Public health is supposed to be separate from politics. But this pandemic — and this election — have turned that idea on its head. POLITICO’s Dan Diamond and Sarah Owermohle discuss how politics is seeping into the vaccine race on both sides of the aisle.
Trump also urged his senior staff members to grant Woodward access and time, allowing him to interview several top aides, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger and former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others. Often Trump would urge aides to call Woodward directly during the reporting process and kept asking West Wing aides when the book would come out.
Throughout the process, several top aides raised concerns among themselves about the access and where it would lead. And they worried about the president’s tendency to overshare his ideas in often blunt language. But aides also resigned themselves to the months-long process of Woodward interviews and calls, knowing the president was interested himself.
“Sometimes the president does a nontraditional thing, and you get a surprising result,” said one senior administration official. “But I don’t think any of us recommended doing it.”
On Wednesday, Trump called the book “another political hit job” — despite the recordings of the president’s own words. And he defended the way he downplayed the virus early on by saying that “you cannot show a sense of panic or you’re going to have bigger problems that you ever had before. Please.”
When asked why the president would sit down with Woodward for 18 interviews when his first book was so critical, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it was because Trump was the “the most transparent president in history.”
McEnany spent most of a press briefing on Wednesday answering questions about the excerpts of the book, contradicting the president’s own words released in audio recordings. “The president never downplayed the virus. Once again, the president expressed calm,” she said in trying to explain the gap between the president’s public versus private comments on the virus.
Democrats pounced on the revelations, believing they demonstrated why Trump did not deserve reelection this fall. “It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” former Vice President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday ahead of an event in Warren, Mich. “He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people.”
“The president’s own words spell out the devastating truth: Trump was fully aware of the catastrophic nature of the coronavirus but hid the facts and refused to take the threat seriously, leaving our entire country exposed and unprepared,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
In response to the book’s revelations, White House aides quickly started blame one another. Newer White House staffers tried to pin the decision to help Woodward on previous offices or particular aides, even though the president himself made the call to work with the author.
The interviews took place over a few iterations of the White