“He failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” Mr Biden said in a speech originally slated to be about his economic plans and delivered on Wednesday.
Donald Trump knew as early as the start of February that coronavirus was “deadly” and worse than the flu, a new book by journalist Bob Woodward has revealed, triggering fresh questions about why he did not act sooner and what he told the American public.
The US president said in an interview with Mr Woodward on February 7 that Covid-19 was “more deadly than even your strenuous flu”, according to audio released on Wednesday ahead of the book’s publication.
Mr Trump was also warned in January by his top national security adviser that coronavirus would be “the biggest national security threat” of his presidency, according to excerpts of the book, called Rage and reported on by The Washington Post and CNN.
Both remarks were made more than a month before the Trump administration would eventually declare a national emergency over Covid-19 and institute a high-profile campaign urging Americans to “stop the spread” of the virus in 15 days.
The revelations have led to claims Mr Trump failed to make clear to the American people the full danger of the virus as the outbreak emerged, given he repeatedly compared it to the flu and said it would just “go away”.
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee (below), jumped on the remarks detailed in the book, saying they showed Mr Trump had “knowingly and willingly lied about the threat”.
Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, delayed her briefing by around an hour as the book’s contents broke, triggering a media storm.
She contextualised the Trump remarks once she arrived. “No one is lying to the American people,” Ms McEnany said, pointing to previous moments at which Mr Trump had made clear Covid-19 was more deadly than the flu. “The president never downplayed the virus,” she said.
However, in one conversation with Mr Woodward on March 19, Mr Trump himself said of coronavirus: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Mr Trump has previously said his early comments expressing hope it would disappear were an attempt to calm the nation.
Mr Woodward (pictured below) is one half of the famous reporting double-act, Woodward and Bernstein, who helped uncover the Watergate scandal that brought down then US president Richard Nixon.
For this book, his second on the Trump presidency, Mr Trump agreed to give him a remarkable 18 on-the-record interviews.
Other revelations in the book include disparaging remarks about the president from his former top defence and intelligence chiefs and new details of Mr Trump’s relationship with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
But the most politically damaging revelations are about the Trump administration’s coronavirus response. Most voters disapprove of Mr Trump’s handling of the pandemic and Mr Biden is framing the November 3 election around that issue.
On January 28 of this year Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser, reportedly told Mr Trump of coronavirus: “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency”. He added, according to the book: “This is going to be the roughest thing you face.”
On February 7, Mr Trump stressed the danger the virus posed in an interview with Mr Woodward. The audio was released on Wednesday.
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Mr Trump said of Covid-19. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” He added for emphasis: “This is deadly stuff.”
But it was not until March 13, more than a month after both of those incidents, that the Trump administration declared a national emergency.
Elsewhere in the book the US president is dubbed “unfit” for office by his former defence secretary Jim Mattis while his former director of national intelligence Dan Coats says “he doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie”.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the Trump administration’s top infectious diseases expert who is still in post, is also quoted saying of the president that “his attention span is like a minus number” and “his sole purpose is to get re-elected”.
The scathing remarks add to the already sizeable group of people who have served Trump at senior levels and are now openly critical of him.
Other eye-catching moments in the book include Mr Trump allegedly saying in one meeting: “My f****** generals are a bunch of p******. They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals.”
Mr Trump also reportedly called Kim Jong-un “beyond smart” and said Kim gave a graphic account of having his own uncle killed.