Woodward calls Trump's COVID-19 response 'presidential negligence' on a scale 'never seen'
OTTAWA -- Bob Woodward says U.S. President Donald Trump's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is part of a "presidential negligence" that the United States has "never seen."
"It is a history of presidential negligence on a scale which is — I've written about presidents for 50 years — they've never seen," Woodward told CTV Question Period Host Evan Solomon in an exclusive interview, airing Sunday.
Woodward, a Washington Post journalist and bestselling author, interviewed Trump more than a dozen times for a new book on the president, "Rage."
In the new book, Trump is quoted describing COVID-19 as "deadly stuff" and highly contagious. Trump made these comments to Woodward in early February — a time when he was publicly downplaying the disease, claiming it's no worse than the flu.
"He was told [COVID-19] was going to be like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people in this country. And so he failed to exercise his duty to protect the people," Woodward told Solomon.
He explained that Trump was aware of the severity of the situation in late January.
"So that was much more alarming, he received the detail, not only a warning, but it was a: 'Hey, a catastrophe is coming,' and the details were laid out for President Trump in a top secret meeting," Woodward said.
In the months since, over eight million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 218,000 have died.
Trump has since faced his own COVID-19 diagnosis, an experience Woodward says has made the president "much more cavalier" about the disease.
"I mean, he's publicly said, 'Oh getting [COVID-19] was a blessing from God.' Imagine somebody saying it is a blessing to get a disease like the coronavirus, COVID-19, when 215,000 people in his country, that he is supposed to lead, had died of it," Woodward said.
"It's really an understatement to say this is Orwellian. It's almost unbelievable."
Woodward interviewed Trump multiple times between early December 2019 and mid-July 2020 for the book, giving him a level of access to the president that has been afforded to few journalists — American or otherwise.
In the interview with Solomon, Woodward gave other insights into Trump's character. He described a man who is "singularly focused" and "acts on impulse, not on plans."
"That's why so many people left the administration in a state of genuine sorrow and disappointment about his leadership," Woodward said.
"He just does not plan. He tweets… the people in the cabinet get orders about major policy issues by reading his tweets. There's no consultation or very little consultation, and it is a one man band."
WOODWARD SAYS TRUMP HAS DECLARED 'WAR' ON DEMOCRACY
Meanwhile, with the presidential election just weeks away, Woodward said that the average person will "tremble at the prospect" of what will take place on Nov. 3.
"He has attacked the electoral process," Woodward said.
"I mean think of this, the president of the United States has declared war on democracy. Suppose in Canada, your prime minister declared war on the system of voting and said we can't count on it. It's not reliable."
During a debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in late September, both men were asked whether they would urge their supporters to stay calm, not engage in civil unrest, and commit to a peaceful transition of power.
Trump would not commit clearly to accepting the result. Instead, he encouraged his backers to be "poll watchers" and cast doubt on the validity of the election due to the number of mail-in ballots anticipated.
Woodward also told Solomon that Trump has, as president, created a "concentration of power" that is "unlike any leader anywhere in the world."
"He has it all to himself, and he takes it all to himself," Woodward said.
The journalist said that this makes him nervous when he considers geopolitics and the potential conflict hotspots bubbling in various regions around the world, such as in the South China Sea.
"The president is commander in chief of the military, essentially can decide whether we go to war, all by himself," Woodward said, adding that Trump has told him he "doesn’t want a war."
However, he said Trump's temperament could contribute to a "dangerous" situation.
"I think, one of the key qualities for president is the capacity to listen and weigh and understand what people are saying, you may not agree with everyone. But Trump just runs right over everyone."
Trump has read Woodward's book. In a mid-September interview with Fox & Friends anchor Steve Doocye, the president called the book "very boring," claiming that Woodward "only writes bad books."
"There was not much in that book," Trump said.
Woodward said if someone told him years ago what the president would be like today, he wouldn't believe them.
"If somebody told me this five or six years ago he would have a president who's doing the things that he's done, I would say they're taking some sort of drug to talk…like that," Woodward said.
"We are in that world right now."