(CNSNews.com) – President Trump “lied to the American people about the magnitude of the [coronavirus] threat, and sat on his behind while we died,” former Obama administration national security advisor Susan Rice said on Thursday.
Rice derided the president’s assertion that he had played down the scale of the crisis so as not to cause panic, calling it “the biggest crock.”
Trump is coming under fire for telling Bob Woodward in a taped interview last March 19, in relation to the pandemic, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
He acknowledged to reporters at the White House this week that he had downplayed the issue, in order not to cause alarm.
“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,” Trump said on Wednesday. “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.”
Trump argued, again, that his administration had taken the threat seriously. He had restricted travel from China – where the outbreak emerged – and taken other mitigation steps well before he made that comment to Woodward.
(As CNSNews.com reported, on January 29 President Trump announced the formation of the President's Coronavirus Task Force, to "monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus."
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency on January 31, and the China travel restrictions authorized by Trump on January 31 came into effect on February 2. They were expanded to apply to 26 European countries on March 11.
And five days later, on March 16, the White House Coronavirus Task Force announced its "15 days to slow the spread" initiative, effectively beginning an unprecedented economic shutdown in the United States.)
“Before any statement was made, you have to remember, I put the ban on China,” Trump said on Thursday.
But Rice on Thursday joined the chorus of Democrats accusing Trump of having lied.
“He lied to the American people about the magnitude of the threat, and sat on his behind while we died,” she said during a virtual event organized by National Security Action, an advocacy group comprising mostly former Obama administration officials.
“It’s an extraordinary admission,” Rice continued. “And then he gets out there and says, ‘you know, I was just trying to make sure nobody panicked and that there wasn’t a frenzy.’ Which is the biggest crock, because he’s more than happy to panic his base, as he sees it, when he thinks it’s politically expedient.”
She cited as an example his warnings of migrant caravans heading for the southern border ahead of the 2018 election.
“This is the worst kind of deliberate decision by a president, not to do the fundamental aspects of his job, and to let us die, and people starve, and kids not go to school, and our economy going to the tank for his political benefit,” Rice said.
Former South Bend, Ind. mayor and unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, also on the call, said he agreed.
“Nothing is more out-of-character for Donald Trump than the idea that he suddenly does not want to cause fear and panic or chaos among the American people,” he said. “It is his specialty to create fear, panic and chaos among the American people.”
Rice was national security advisor in the Obama White House, after serving as ambassador to the United Nations. During the earlier post, she was mired in controversy eight years ago when the White House sent her to deliver to five Sunday television talk shows the false message that the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was a “spontaneous reaction” to an online video mocking Mohammed.
Only later did the administration publicly acknowledge that it was a terrorist attack, with a likely al-Qaeda link. Republican critics suspected that the administration had deliberately sought to mislead American voters – during President Obama’s re-election campaign – about the nature of the incident.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, and foreign service officer Sean Smith were killed in the attack.