Trump says coronavirus is 'dying out;' Dr. Sanjay Gupta says the virus is not dying

CNN's Vivian Salama and Dana Bash join The Lead.

Posted: Jun 18, 2020 9:01 AM
Updated: Jun 18, 2020 9:01 AM

A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

President Trump went on a veritable interview tour on Wednesday — Sinclair, Gray TV, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News — and was thoroughly dismissive of the coronavirus threat in at least two of the interviews.

Gray TV's DC bureau chief Jacqueline Policastro said to Trump, "Coronavirus cases are rising in 22 states, including Oklahoma, where you plan to hold a big rally this week. Aren't you worried about people getting sick?"

"No," Trump said, "because if you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It's dying out. By the way, we're doing very well in vaccines and therapeutics." And he went on from there.

His claim about the virus "dying out" is countered by health experts and the government's own data, which shows cases spiking across the country.

But he made another similar claim later in the day in a phone call with Fox's Sean Hannity, Trump delivered "his usual exaggeration about his travel restrictions," per CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale, and said the US will not have to close again.

"We're very close to a vaccine and we're very close to therapeutics, really good therapeutics," he said. "But even without that, I don't like to talk about that because it's fading away. It's going to fade away, but having a vaccine would be really nice and that's going to happen."

Trump's "fading away" talk echoes his February and March claims -- since disproven -- that the virus is "going away."

His new comments on Wednesday reaffirmed what CNN's White House team wrote here: "Trump has largely tuned out the persistent coronavirus contagion -- which is causing spikes in new cases across 21 states and daily death tolls that reach into the hundreds -- to focus instead on reviving both the economy and his own political prospects."

This story quoted an administration official close to the coronavirus task force as saying, "They just don't want to deal with the reality of it. They're in denial."

Here's the reality

Dr. Sanjay Gupta's viral tweetstorm informed millions of people on Wednesday. So did his numerous live shots on CNN.

Gupta rebutted Trump's "it's dying out" claim in an interview with Don Lemon, saying, "It's not going away, it's just sort of moved around the country, which was exactly what was expected. It's not dying away."

Other experts have also warned against wishful thinking about the virus.

"It does seem that the administration wants to move beyond coronavirus, but the virus isn't going to cooperate," Dr. Zeke Emanuel, a former Obama White House health policy adviser, said on CNN's "New Day." Emanuel is also on Joe Biden's public health advisory committee.

"Unfortunately, by opening up so rapidly, we have just increased the number of cases we're going to see and the number of deaths we're going to see," he said.

In other news... bombshells from Bolton's book

The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and CNN all published details from John Bolton's book on Wednesday. There are many, many takeaways, so I recommend you read the CNN team's full recap here. But the No. 1 bit of news is that Bolton claims Trump "personally asked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to help him win the 2020 US presidential election."

Trump allies continue to claim that Bolton revealed classified info; those arguments will be addressed in court. The Justice Department filed for a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, so there's likely to be a hearing by the end of the week. But Wednesday's leaks demonstrated that the book is already out in the open. ABC's "World News Tonight" aired an excerpt from Martha Raddatz's sit-down interview with Bolton, and "GMA" will air another clip on Thursday morning, I'm told.

"Should be executed"

Per Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey's summary of the book's highlights and lowlights, Bolton "describes a summer 2019 meeting in New Jersey where Trump says journalists should be jailed so they have to divulge their sources: 'These people should be executed. They are scumbags,' Trump said, according to Bolton's account."

Trump calls Bolton a "washed up guy"

Oliver Darcy writes: "After discussing a few other topics first, Hannity finally got around to asking Trump about Bolton's book. Trump first responded to Bolton's allegations by saying that he has been tough on countries like China and Russia. The prez then (predictably) lashed out at his former national security advisor and said he 'broke the law' by publishing his tell-all. Characterizing Bolton as a "washed up guy," Trump said he effectively handed Bolton a favor by giving him a 'non-Senate confirmed position." Soon after, Hannity moved on from the topic..."

What is the best way to convey all of this?

Oliver Darcy writes: "Bolton's book contains a multitude of explosive allegations. And because the revelations came by way of a flood on Wednesday, versus a steady drip by drip, it's difficult for news organizations to properly explain each of the stories to their respective audiences. Some news outlets framed their stories around specific angles, like Bolton's allegation that Trump sought reelection help from China, while other outlets went with more general headlines trying to cram everything under one umbrella."

"Personally," Darcy adds, "I thought the Drudge Report did an excellent job, stacking multiple banner headlines on top of each other with several of the biggest revelations that emerged from the book. Readers skimming the site walked away with a good amount of info in just a few seconds. Compare that to other headlines which required readers to first click on the story and then invest several minutes reading it from top to bottom. It's important to remember that most people are not on Twitter all day, and laying out key points in bullet-point form — which allows the news to be easier digested — is helpful for those trying to get a grip on this wild news cycle."

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