(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump, in an interview with journalist Bob Woodward, has admitted to deliberately minimizing the seriousness of the novel coronavirus to the public despite understanding its true danger, according to reports on Wednesday.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said on March 19, according to CNN, which obtained an audio recording of the interview, and The Washington Post. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Trump had acknowledged to Woodward over a month before that the recognized COVID-19 was “deadly stuff,” according to CNN — in contrast with the president’s public assertions the virus would “work out fine” and was “very much under control.”

His statements to Woodward, as reported by CNN and The Washington Post, reflect a greater recognition of the threat than he let on publicly.

ABC News has not obtained copies of Woodward’s book or the audio recordings and could not independently confirm the reports. The book is titled “Rage” and scheduled to be published next Tuesday.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in call with Woodward on Feb. 7, according to The Washington Post and audio aired on CNN. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

But less than two weeks later, the president said in a television interview: “I think it’s going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus. So let’s see what happens, but I think it’s going to work out fine.”

About 190,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus since the outbreak began earlier this year.

Trump also told Woodward on Feb. 7 that COVID-19 was “more deadly than even your strenuous flu,” according to CNN.

But 19 days later, during a news conference, he said: “This is a flu. This is like a flu.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted at a White House briefing Wednesday the president “never lied to the American public on COVID” but rather “was expressing calm.”

Despite Trump’s saying on the March 19 audio recording obtained by CNN that “I wanted to always play it down” and “I still like playing it down,” McEnany said: “The president never down played the virus. The president expressed calm and he was serious about this.”

"The president has never lied to the American public about COVID," White House press sec. Kayleigh McEnany says in response to reports that Pres. Trump admitted he deliberately played down coronavirus threat in an interview with Bob Woodward.

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 9, 2020

Trump’s Democratic opponent for the presidency, former Vice President Joe Biden, said Wednesday that the president’s reported comments were “beyond despicable and that it amounted to a “dereliction of duty to disgrace.”

“He knew how deadly it was,” Biden said during a campaign stop in Michigan. “It was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.

“He had the information,” Biden added. “He knew how dangerous it was, 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.”

NEW: Joe Biden on reports Pres. Trump admitted he deliberately played down coronavirus threat in interview with Bob Woodward: "He knowingly and willingly lied…He failed to do his job—on purpose. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people."

— ABC News (@ABC) September 9, 2020

The book also contains harsh assessments of Trump’s behavior from some of his top former national security officials, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former director of national intelligence Daniel Coates, according to the reports.

Mattis called Trump “dangerous” and “unfit” and said “the president has no moral compass,” Woodward wrote, according to The Washington Post.

ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps, Molly Nagle and Libby Cathey contributed to this report.

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