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Donald Trump told Bob Woodward COVID-19 was deadly — just two days post-impeachment

To Republicans senators who thought "how much harm can Trump do before the election?" when voting not to convict: The answer, it turns out, is “plenty."
Image: President Trump Holds Briefing At White House
President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Friday.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Journalist Bob Woodward disclosed Wednesday that President Donald Trump told him as early as Feb. 7 that the coronavirus was "deadly" and worse than a "strenuous flu" — all in a tape-recorded interview.

According to excerpts in Woodward's new book, "Rage," despite fully understanding the danger the virus posed, Trump admitted to him in March that he had intentionally "played down" the virus's danger in public settings, thereby misleading the American public about the seriousness of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has since killed more than 191,000 people in the U.S. and counting.

There is, of course, another piece of historical context worth remembering: Trump was left in control of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic because the Republican Senate majority on Jan. 31 — abjectly failing to perform its constitutional duties — voted to bar witnesses from testifying in the impeachment trial before deciding whether to remove Trump from office.

A mere five days later, 52 Republican senators voted against one article of impeachment, and all 53 voted against the other. And two days after that, Trump told Woodward that he fully understood the nature of the coronavirus and the danger it posed to the nation, even as he was telling the nation not to worry.

So if Republican senators at the time thought "how much harm can Trump do before the election?" the answer, it turns out, is "plenty." Delaying a verdict on Trump's actions for nine months has had devastating consequences for millions of Americans.

In late January, explaining his refusal to hear witnesses in the impeachment trial, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said that, despite his constitutional mandate, it was the responsibility of voters to judge Trump's conduct — at the ballot box, which was then nine months in the future.

Of course, he was talking whether he believed Trump improperly asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and withheld military aid to encourage the investigation. But he later pressed the argument that it was for the voters to decide Trump's fate in the election. Five other Republican senators also appeared to acknowledge that Trump acted inappropriately in his call with the president of Ukraine, but they said impeachment was not the remedy.

While the Senate — even in a trial with witnesses, like former national security adviser John Bolton, who did not testify but, in his book published afterward, essentially confirmed that Trump sought Ukraine's help to bolster his re-election — would have been unlikely convict Trump, at least Americans would have had a full airing of the president's unprecedented abuse of power.

Of course, Alexander's theory that a president should not be impeached in an election year is rebutted by the history of the Constitutional Convention. As quoted by David Priess in LawFare: "If he be not impeachable whilst in office," William Davie told his fellow delegates on July 20, 1787, about the hypothetically guilty president, "he will spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself re-elected."

No truer prophecy has ever been spoken: Trump has shown his willingness to do anything to be re-elected.

After the Senate refused to remove Trump, he retaliated against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, removing him from his assignment at the White House and blocking his duly earned promotion within the Army, as well as Ambassador Gordon Sondland, both of whom testified in the House impeachment inquiry.

He falsely attacked the integrity of mail-in balloting, claiming and insinuating that the election will be stolen by fraud rather than won by his opponent on the merits.

Then, as if to implement Trump's boasts about problems with the security of mail-in voting, his postmaster general, Louis DeJoy — who took office only in May — immediately implemented cost-cutting measures negatively affecting postal deliveries. His temporary halt to further cuts after blowback from Congress has not rectified mail delivery delays and operational deficiencies.

Meanwhile, in no small part because of his desire to downplay the seriousness of the virus, more than 6.2 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the U.S. and nearly 192,000 have died so far.

And while the coronavirus pandemic likely would have killed thousands of Americans even if Vice President Mike Pence had succeeded him as president, Trump exacerbated the death toll by his initial refusal to publicly acknowledge the danger of COVID-19 and his repeated unfounded claims that the virus will just "go away." Trump's disdain for scientific experts during the pandemic and his offhand suggestions to investigate drinking or injecting disinfectants to treat the coronavirus have misled the public. His directives prevented the early use of protective measures, including the mandatory wearing of masks, to fight the pandemic.

That Trump has now admitted to Woodward that he knew better merely compounds his complicity.

Beyond all that, Alexander's theory that Trump should be judged by the voters in November rather than by Senate jurors last February has permitted the president to engage in further incitement of racial divisions, the denigration of the military, the evisceration of environmental protections against oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the deployment of federal troops as law enforcement in American cities.

None of that had to happen.

The day of reckoning behind Alexander's theory of action is now less than two months away. As the senator then wished, the voters will deliver the final verdict about the Trump presidency — as well as about many of those complicit Republican senators who perpetuated it for nine months longer than it should have lasted.