John Bolton Says Trump Should Be a 'Leader Not a Cheerleader' After Woodward Tapes

Former national security adviser John Bolton has said President Donald Trump has an obligation to tell the truth about the coronavirus pandemic to the American people.

It follows revelations in the book Rage, by Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, that Trump knew as early as February 7 about the dangers of the disease—but played it down in public.

The quote

In an interview on CNN, Bolton, whose book The Room Where It Happened pulled no punches in its criticism of the president, said: "He said not just that he didn't want to cause panic but that he was a cheerleader. And he wanted to keep people's spirits up. I think that's a telling aspect of his character but it is not what a president is. He is a leader not a cheerleader.

"The American people are not children. They're adults. And the way a leader reacts is you tell them the truth," Bolton told Cuomo Prime Time.

Ex-National Security Advisor John Bolton
Ex-National Security Advisor John Bolton at Duke University on February 17, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina. He told CNN President Trump had an obligation to be straight with the public about COVID-19. Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

Why it matters

Woodward's book reveals that the president played down the dangers of the novel coronavirus at the start of the pandemic.

With the U.S. death toll so far standing at 190,000, the idea that the president knew all along how dangerous the disease is politically toxic on the re-election campaign trail and has sparked outrage. Former CIA director John Brennan described the revelations as an "abomination" and that "if he had a conscience or a soul, he would resign."

The counterpoint

Trump denied he lied about the severity of the coronavirus, and has insisted he wanted to maintain public calm in his public utterances on the pandemic. After the White House declared the pandemic a national emergency, Trump told Woodward: "I don't want to create a panic."

Earlier White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president "had never lied to the American public on COVID. The president was expressing calm, and his actions reflect that."

Meanwhile, Woodward himself is also facing criticism, for not revealing the conversation earlier, with some suggesting that he was more interested in his book sales than informing the American people about a public health danger.

Trump used this as part of his defense, tweeting: "Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn't he immediately report them in an effort to save lives?"

In a statement to Newsweek, White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said: "The suggestion that President Trump misled the public or concealed information that cost lives is an absurd proposition.

"He has always put the health of the American people first as evidenced by his early response in January when he issued a travel ban on China, declared a public health emergency, and created the coronavirus task force."

"During times of crisis, people want a leader who will make decisive actions in a calm manner and as the President noted he didn't want to induce unnecessary panic and was seeking to calm the nation."

This story has been updated to include a White House statement to Newsweek.

Correction 9/12/20: An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Bob Woodward's book. We regret the error.