Donald Trump visibly floundered in an interview when pressed on a range of issues, including the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the US, his claims that mail-in voting is fraudulent, and his inaction over the “Russian bounty” scandal.
The US president also repeatedly cast doubt on the cause of death of Jeffrey Epstein, and said of Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite who has pleaded not guilty to participating in the sex-trafficking of girls by Epstein, that he wished her well.
In the interview, broadcast on HBO on Monday and conducted by Axios’s national political correspondent, Jonathan Swan, Trump again asserted that his administration was doing an “incredible job” responding to the coronavirus.
Claiming that the pandemic was unique, Trump said: “This has never happened before. Nineteen seventeen, but it was totally different, it was a flu in that case. If you watch the fake news on television, they don’t even talk about it, but there are 188 other countries right now that are suffering. Some, proportionately, far greater than we are.”
Trump has repeatedly referred to the 1917 flu pandemic, whereas the outbreak happened in 1918 and into 1919.
And when asked about the death toll from coronavirus so far in the US, of almost 155,000 killed, Trump appeared irritated and said: “It is what it is.”
His opponent in the upcoming presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden, tweeted on Tuesday morning: “Mr President, step up and do your job before even more American families feel the pain of losing a loved one.”
Biden also wrote: “On July 1st, Donald Trump predicted the coronavirus was going to ‘just disappear.’ He was wrong – and more than 25,000 Americans died due to the virus last month.”
Swan pressed the president on which countries were doing worse. Trump brandished several pieces of paper with graphs and charts on them that he referred to as he attempted to suggest the US figures compared well internationally.
“Right here, United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world. Lower than Europe.”
“In what?” asks Swan. As it becomes apparent that Trump is talking about the number of deaths as a proportion of cases, Swan says said: “Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population. That’s where the US is really bad. Much worse than Germany, South Korea.”
Trump then says: “You can’t do that.”
According to figures from Johns Hopkins University, the US has had over 4.7m confirmed Covid-19 cases, with 155,471 deaths. The US accounts for more than a quarter of all global confirmed infections.
In another section of the interview, Trump repeats his false assertion that the reason the US has a significantly higher number of cases is because it tests more than anyone else, saying: “You know, there are those that say you can test too much. You do know that.”
Asked who says that, Trump replies: “Oh, just read the manuals. Read the books.”
Trump also appears, without evidence, to assert that children are receiving positive Covid-19 test results for having a runny nose – which is not generally listed among the symptoms of coronavirus, which include a high temperature and a new continuous cough.
“You test, some kid has even just a little runny nose, it’s a case. And then you report many cases,” Trump says.
The president attempts to shift blame for the outbreaks of coronavirus on to state governors, saying: “We have done a great job. We’ve got the governors everything they needed. They didn’t do their job – many of them didn’t, some of them did.”
The actor and activist Mia Farrow tweeted: “Every American should watch this, the full, flabbergasting interview.”
Trump was also asked about his previous baseless assertion that due to mail-in voting, the forthcoming US election would be “the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history”.
In the interview, Trump says: “So we have a new phenomena [sic], it’s called mail-in voting.” Swan then clarifies that mail-in voting has existed since the US civil war.
Further attempting to cast doubt on the process, Trump says: “So they’re going to send tens of millions of ballots to California, all over the place. Who’s going to get them? Somebody got a ballot for a dog. Somebody got a ballot for something else. You got millions of ballots going. Nobody even knows where they’re going.”
The interview took place last Tuesday, before the president’s tweet that falsely floated the idea that November’s election could be delayed.
On Maxwell and Epstein, the president appeared to cast doubt on the official account of the cause of Epstein’s death, which has been a repeated source of conspiracy theories.
Of Maxwell, Trump says “Her friend or boyfriend Epstein was either killed or committed suicide in jail. She’s now in jail. Yeah, I wish her well.” Trump goes on twice more to say of Epstein: “Was it suicide or was he killed?”
In another part of the interview, he dismissed again as “fake news” intelligence reports that Russia had been offering bounties to the Taliban for attacks on US forces in Afghanistan. Asked specifically by Swan whether he had ever discussed the issue with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Trump confirms he has never mentioned it to him.
When Swan asks Trump about Russia supplying weapons to the Taliban, the president asserts: “I have heard that, but it has never reached my desk.”
Lily Adams, a spokeswoman and adviser for the so-called war room of the Democratic party’s national committee slammed the president as incoherent and rambling through misinformation.
“Trump’s disastrous interview would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high. More than 155,000 Americans have died, over 4.7 million have been infected, and we are in the sharpest economic downturn on record … coronavirus cases are skyrocketing and the economy is spiraling because of his failed response,” Adams said.