Bolton responds to Woodward book, says Trump's decision to downplay virus 'almost certainly' cost lives

Suzanne Smalley
·Reporter
·3 min read

Former national security adviser John Bolton told Yahoo News on Wednesday that President Trump’s failure to level with the public about the gravity of the coronavirus threat “almost certainly” cost lives and is emblematic of Trump’s tendency to make decisions solely on what “will affect him politically.”

Bolton, who served as Trump’s third national security adviser in 2018 and 2019, was reacting to audio excerpts released Wednesday from a forthcoming book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. On one tape from March 19, Trump can be heard telling Woodward that he did not warn the public about the severity of the coronavirus because he did not want to “create a panic.”

“A real leader knows how to communicate ‘We’ve got a serious problem here and we’re going to address it seriously,’” Bolton said in his interview with the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast. “That doesn’t cause a panic among the American people. They’re not children. But Trump knew that if he were truly candid about the nature of the threat we faced and what might have to happen that he would bear negative consequences.”

The revelations in Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” come at a time when the United States is approaching 200,000 deaths from COVID-19.

John Bolton
Then national security adviser John Bolton in August 2019. (Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images)

As revealed in Woodward’s book, the president was warned by his current national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, as early as Jan. 31 that the virus “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” And according to tapes Woodward made of his conversations with the president, Trump understood the seriousness of the threat, telling the journalist in a Feb. 7 conversation that the virus is “more deadly than even your strenuous flu. ... This is deadly stuff.”

Yet Trump continued to play down the threat from the virus to the public, telling reporters on March 7, “I’m not concerned at all.”

Bolton said he will not vote for Trump in November and plans to write in (the late) Ronald Reagan. He said he can’t vote for Trump because the president’s handling of the coronavirus is merely a symptom of a larger problem — one Bolton says he constantly contended with when he was in the White House.

“He never developed a strategy,” Bolton said. “He doesn’t develop strategies, he doesn’t think in strategic terms, he doesn’t think in philosophical terms, he doesn’t think in policy terms. Everything is a day-to-day decision.”

Bolton also said Trump’s cozy relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping undoubtedly influenced his handling of the threat.

“It was very clear to me that Trump didn’t want to hear anything bad about this disease, didn’t want to hear anything bad about his friend Xi Jinping, didn’t want to draw any conclusions about China covering up or conducting a disinformation campaign,” Bolton said. “And he particularly did not want to hear that something bad might happen to the economy here in the United States that he saw as his ticket for reelection. Trump just wanted it to go away.”

Bolton, who resigned last September, is the author of “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.” The Trump administration tried unsuccessfully to stop Bolton’s highly critical book from being published.

Bolton said he believes the president simply figured “he could skate through this with almost no effect on the economy whatever.”

“It turned out to be a bad bet,” Bolton added. “It turned out to be a worse bet for nearly 200,000 Americans.”

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