Trump admits he downplayed COVID-19 threat

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Good morning, NBC News readers.

More fallout from the revelations in Bob Woodward's new book, West Coast wildfires are leaving a trail of devastation and another whistleblower is accusing top Department of Homeland Security officials of distorting intelligence.

Here's what we're watching this Thursday morning.

'Deadly stuff': Trump admits he intentionally downplayed COVID-19 dangers to Woodward

President Donald Trump acknowledged Wednesday that he intentionally downplayed the dangers of COVID-19 last winter, in an attempt to avoid "panic" and to show "strength" and "leadership."

His comments came in an attempt to extinguish some of the political firestorm set off by the release of excerpts and audio from journalist Bob Woodward's explosive new book, "Rage," due to hit bookstores next week.

"You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed," Trump told Woodward in a Feb. 7 phone call, according to an audio clip posted on the The Washington Post's website. "This is deadly stuff," he said.

At the same time, the president was publicly telling Americans that the new virus was no worse than the seasonal flu, that the government had it under control and predicting that it would soon disappear.

In another interview with Woodward a month later, Trump acknowledged that he was trying to downplay the threat.

"I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic," Trump said in a March 19 call with Woodward.

More than 190,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19, according to NBC News latest count.

The political backlash over the president's comments was fast and furious with Joe Biden and other top Democrats immediately denouncing Trump.

"It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people," Biden said about the revelations during a campaign event in Michigan Wednesday. "It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty, a disgrace."

Woodward's book is based on 18 on-the-record phone calls he had with Trump from December to July on a variety of subjects — from the race issues roiling America to North Korea.

In one call, Woodward pointed out that both he and the president were white and privileged and asked if Trump was trying to understand the "anger and pain" felt by Black Americans.

"No," Trump responded. "You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don't feel that at all."

Meantime, Woodward was criticized by some for not releasing Trump's comments earlier.

News analysis: If Woodward's book is a "political hit job," Trump is the culprit, NBC News' Jonathan Allen writes.

Looking for more of Allen's political analysis? In the latest episode of our Into America podcast, host Trymaine Lee and Allen dig into the upcoming election.

'Devastating' fires spread up the West Coast , leaving at least six dead

Wildfires continued to rage out of control throughout California and the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday, killing at least six people and devastating half a dozen towns in Oregon.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said that in the last 24 hours, the state had "experienced unprecedented fire with significant damage and devastating consequences."

"This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state's history," she said at a news conference.

California and Washington weren't doing much better, with wildfires still raging in both Western states.

An eerie orange and brown glow filled the sky above the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday, a mixture of fog and smoke from the fires that cast a perpetual rust colored haze over the city.

Locals were perplexed by the strange sky, calling it "creepy," "apocalyptic" and "like a scene from Mars."

Barr defends DOJ involvement in Trump sexual assault lawsuit

Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday defended the Justice Department's involvement in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump brought by E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in the mid-1990s.

In an exclusive interview with "NBC Nightly News," Barr said that under federal law it is "not particularly unusual" for the Justice Department to step in when an elected government official is sued civilly in court.

"This is done frequently. It's been done for presidents. It's been done for congressmen. The normal process was followed in this particular case you're talking about," he said.

On Wednesday, Trump also released a new list of Supreme Court prospects and pledged to pick a nominee from the conservative list if he is re-elected and has the opportunity to fill another vacancy.

Whistleblower says top DHS officials distorted intel to match Trump statements, lied to Congress

A whistleblower has accused top Trump administration homeland security officials of violating laws and policies by lying to Congress and manipulating intelligence reports to conform with President Donald Trump's political agenda.

A written complaint by Brian Murphy, who was a top Department of Homeland Security intelligence analyst, accuses top DHS officials of blocking analysis of Russian election interference, watering down intelligence reports about corruption and violence fueling a refugee flow from Central America, and "modify(ing) assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and 'anarchist' groups."

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THINK about it

E. Jean Carroll vs. DOJ: Trump and Barr's defamation defense sets another bad precedent, Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School, writes in an opinion piece.


Drink more water! Here are eight underrated eating tips that can help you get healthier.

One inspiring thing

Bob Edgar and Leteane Monatsi are unable to join large demonstrations for racial justice in Washington, D.C. because their physical disabilities make jostling in large crowds dangerous.

But that hasn't stopped the father and son. As NBC News' Andrea Mitchell reports, they protest regularly on their local street corner.

They hope their voices will inspire others to action.

Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.

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Thanks, Petra

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