President Trump defends downplaying COVID-19: ‘I didn’t lie’

In a press conference Thursday, Trump said he “didn’t lie” to the American people, after he reportedly admitted to playing down the COVID-19 threat in an interview with Bob Woodward.
4:48 | 09/10/20

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Transcript for President Trump defends downplaying COVID-19: ‘I didn’t lie’
But we're going to begin tonight with the president, who came before the cameras this afternoon to defend himself, to defend his own words recorded by journalist Bob Woodward. The president months ago telling Woodward that the coronavirus was far deadlier than the flu, that it goes through the air. And the president was recorded acknowledging he was downplaying the virus here in the U.S. And after acknowledging in private it was deadlier than the flu, weeks later, telling the American people it was a little bit like the flu and that it would go away quickly. Our Jon Karl pressing the president today and what he said in those recordings versus what he said in front of the cameras to the American people. So tonight here, how the president responded, how he's defending his words. And so Jon Karl leads us off. Reporter: President trump tonight insisted he did not lie to the American people despite what he told Bob Woodward about intentionally playing down the threat posed by coronavirus. I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic. Reporter: On February 7th, he told Woodward the virus was more deadly than the worst flus. It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch, you know, the touch, you don't have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. It's also more deadly than your, you know, your -- even your strenuous flus. Reporter: Three weeks later, he told the American people something different. But that's a little bit like the flu, a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. I really think, doctor, you want to treatment this like you treat the flu, right? You know, it's going to be fine. Reporter: Today, I asked him to explain. Why did you lie to the American people and why should we trust what you have to say now? That's a terrible question and the phraseology. I didn't lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can't be panicked. Your question, the way you phrased that is such a disgrace. It's a disgrace to ABC television network, it's a disgrace to your employer and that's the answer. Are you ready? Because I -- Reporter: Are you saying you didn't -- I love -- of course I didn't -- Reporter: You said it was deadlier -- No, no. Reporter: -- Than the flu and you went out and told the American public that this was just like the flu. Let me tell you something, we had flu years -- Reporter: You told everybody else something else. No, and five times, right? Five times. You ever hear the expression five times? We've had flu years where we lost 100,000 people. The flu is a very serious problem for this country also. Reporter: You told Bob Woodward this is worse than the most strenuous, deadlier than the most strenuous flu. Okay. Reporter: And then you went out and said it's just like the flu. What I went out and said was very simple. Listen, what I went out and said was very simple. I want to show a level of confidence and I want to show strength as a leader and I want to show that our country is going to be fine one way or the other. Reporter: So you won't downplay it again? You won't downplay it again, because you said you downplayed it. That's what you told Bob Woodward. All I'm doing is -- no, I don't want to jump up and down and start screaming death, death, because that's not what it's about. We have to lead a country. Reporter: The president then tried to deflect blame to Woodward. If Bob Woodward thought what I said was bad, then he should have immediately, right after I said it, gone out to the authorities. Reporter: In an interview with "60 minutes," Woodward said it was the president's responsibility to be truthful with the American public. This is the tragedy. A president of the United States has a duty to warn. The public will understand that, but if they get the feeling that they're not getting the truth, then you're going down the path of deceit and coverup. Reporter: For his part, Joe Biden is saying the president's mishandling of the pandemic has cost American lives. You saw what Columbia medical school pointed out in March. If he acted one week earlier, thooed be over 31,000 more people alive. He waved a white flag. He walked away. He didn't do a damn thing. Think about it. Think about what he did not do. And it's almost criminal. So, let's get to Jon Karl live at the white house tonight. And Jon, we know the president is holding a rally this evening in Michigan. The images already coming in. I know there's some real tension on the ground there, because local health officials have been worried about this, Michigan's governor calling it very distressing? Reporter: David, and look at that. This is a full-flown rally. Lots of people, no social distancing, very few masks. It almost certainly violates Michigan law, which says no outdoor gatherings with more than 100 people. The campaign, the trump campaign, has already had to cancel events this week set for Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, because local officials there said they were against the law. But the president made it very clear he wants to see reopenings everywhere and he also said that there would not be another shut down, no matter what, even in the experts said there needed to be one. David? Jon Karl leading us off at the white house. Jon, thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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