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Bob Woodward defended his decision in an interview with taxpayer-funded National Public Radio (NPR) to wait until excerpts from his book Rage were released earlier this month to reveal that President Donald Trump spoke to him in February about the deadly threat of coronavirus.

The NPR interview, which aired Monday, set up Woodward as a great journalist and Trump as the one who lied to the American people.

“What did the president know? And when did he know it?” Morning Edition host Rachel Martin asked. “The journalist Bob Woodward pushed President Trump to answer those questions about the coronavirus.”

NPR host Mary Louise Kelly asked Woodward about the elephant in the room since his “bombshell” book was set to be released Tuesday. 

“Let’s just start there, with the controversy that has sort of blown up over whether Woodward should have shared some of his reporting sooner. How does he answer that charge?” Martin asked Kelly, who said she and Woodward had a “back and forth on this point.”

Woodward took the opportunity to defend himself, claiming he had been confused about his conversation with the president.

“I knew at the time and believed he was talking about the virus in China because he had talked to Chinese President Xi the night before,” Woodward said. “And as you know, at that point in February, there was no virus awareness in the United States.”

“You describe in the book, though, that you were surprised at what he was saying,” Kelly said.

“Yes, because it was, ‘Oh, did he get it from President Xi?’” Woodward said. “And so I spent a good deal of time trying to get information, and, in fact, the transcript of the Trump-Xi call the night before, because I thought that would be a clue to what went on. You know, the…”

“But you didn’t need other sources to know that what the president said to you on February 7 directly contradicted what he was saying in public in February,” said Kelly.

“But, see, he was talking about China, as far as I understood it, because there’s no virus issue…” Woodward said.

“There were cases here during…” Kelly said.

“Yes. But as you know, you’ve got Tony Fauci out there at the end of February saying everyone can do it — everything — and not worry. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s a China problem. And by March, it’s clearly an American problem. And so I’m asking the question, what did the president know? When did he know it? And how did he know it?”

Kelly continued by defending Woodward despite his changing story.

“So, Rachel, you hear Bob Woodward there forcefully defending his reporting and his timing for when he put it out in the world,” Kelly said. “He also told me, and I’ll quote, ‘If at any point I had thought there is something to tell the American people that they don’t know, I would do it.’”

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter.

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