President Donald Trump admitted on record to a journalist that he knew how deadly the COVID-19 pandemic was, but downplayed it to avoid a "panic."
"I wanted to always play it down," Trump said on March 19, according to CNN. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
The admission caused an uproar online. The COVID-19 death toll in the US is nearing 200,000.
Trump defended his admission to reporters on Wednesday.
"Well, I think if you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that's so," Trump said. "The fact is, I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic as you say. And certainly, I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength. We want to show strength as a nation. And that's what I've done."
He continued: "I was very open, whether it's to Woodward or anybody else. It's just another political hit job, but whether it was Woodward or anybody else, you cannot show a sense of panic or you're going to have bigger problems than you ever had before," Trump said.