Donald Trump has blasted a journalist who accused him of lying to Americans about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Why did you lie to the American people and why should we trust what you have to say now?” Jon Karl of ABC News asked Mr Trump at White House briefing on Thursday (US time).
Mr Trump responded by calling the question a “disgrace”.
“Such a terrible question and the phraseology,” he said.
“I didn’t lie. What I said is we have to be calm, we can’t be panicked.
“The way you phrased that is such a disgrace … It’s a disgrace to ABC Television Network. It’s a disgrace to your employer.”
Audio emerged this week of Mr Trump telling veteran journalist Bob Woodward on February 7 that he believed COVID-19 was “more deadly than even your strenuous flus”.
“This is 5 per cent versus 1 per cent and less than 1 per cent. You know? So, this is deadly stuff,” he is heard saying.
He later admitted that he liked “playing it down” so he didn’t worry Americans.
“I don’t want to create a panic,” he told Woodward, whose upcoming book, Rage, reveals the contents of 18 interviews with Mr Trump between December and July.
The recordings are further evidence Mr Trump – who was publicly comparing the virus to the seasonal flu at about the same time – did not tell Americans about the real risk to their health.
The US has the world’s highest number of reported COVID cases and deaths. It has had nearly 6.5 million cases and more than 190,000 fatalities – which are now coming at a rate of about 1000 a day.
There has also been a spike in new cases in the Midwest and states such as Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hot spots in the past few weeks.
But, under further questioning from Karl and at least one other journalist at the briefing, Mr Trump defended his administration’s approach to the pandemic.
“I want to show a level of confidence, and I want to show strength as a leader and I want to show our country is going to be fine one way or the other,” Mr Trump said.
“There was no lie here. What we’re doing is we’re leading, and we’re leading in a proper way.”
The President, who took only three questions before leaving the briefing, shrugged off comparisons to other world leaders. Asked how German Chancellor Angela Merkel had managed to respond to the virus without sparking panic, he argued the European Union was dealing with a surge in infections.
But even the recent spike in cases in Europe is just a percentage of what the US has dealt with for months.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has accused Mr Trump of knowingly lying about the deadliness of coronavirus in what amounted to a “dereliction” of duty.
“He knew and purposefully played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people,” Biden said, visiting the battleground state and home of the US auto industry, Michigan.
“And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job – on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.
“It’s a dereliction of duty, a disgrace.”