President Donald Trump suggested in a convoluted interview with Axios' Jonathan Swan on Monday that South Korea had published fake death numbers in a possible effort to make its response to the coronavirus pandemic appear better than his own.
"Well, look at South Korea for example," Swan said. "Fifty-one million, population. Three hundred deaths. It's like, it's crazy compared to—"
"You don't know that," Trump responded.
"I do," Swan said. "It's on—"
"You don't know that," the president repeated.
"You think they're faking their statistics? South Korea?" Swan asked, puzzled. "An advanced country?"
"I won't get into that, because I have a very good relationship with the country," Trump replied. "But you don't know that, and they have spikes."
The president made the accusation about the false statistics while trying to defend his own rosy analysis of his administration's success in containing the spread of the coronavirus.
For nearly three minutes, a visibly flustered Trump tried to hand Swan several colorful and simplistic charts, each of which distorted the politically inconvenient reality that under Trump's stewardship, cases, hospitalizations and deaths per capita in the U.S. continue to increase.
"Here's one right here," Trump said later. "The U.S."
The president held up a horizontally-printed chart featuring four pastel-colored bars the width of two fingers.
"You take the number of cases. No, look," Trump told Swan, flourishing the graph. "We're last. Meaning, we're first. We have the best."
"Last?" Swan asked. "I don't know what we're first in — as of what?"
"Take a look again," Trump said, again trying to give the chart to Swan. "It's cases, and we have cases because of the testing."
The president has repeatedly tried to convince the American public of the misleading notion that the reason why the U.S. has reported more cases than any other country thus far is because it has conducted more tests.
But as recently as his comeback rally in Tulsa, Okla., Trump went so far as to publicly claim that he had ordered public health officials to "slow the testing down" in order to improve his public image.
When Swan made clear that in his view, hospitalizations and death rates were a better indicator of the outbreak's severity, Trump accused the founder of Axios of "not reporting it correctly." He then tried to hand Swan another chart.
"I mean, 1,000 Americans are dying a day," Swan said. "But I understand. I understand on the cases, it's different."
"No, but you're not reporting it correctly, Jonathan," Trump interposed.
Swan replied, "I think I am, but—"
Trump shuffled his papers.
"If you take a look at this other chart," he said, looking for the desired graph. "This is our testing, I believe. This is the testing, yeah."
"Yeah, we do more tests," Swan agreed.
"No, wait a minute. Well, don't we get credit for that?" Trump asked. "And because we do more tests, we have more cases. In other words, we test more. We have — now, take a look."
The president held up a line graph in full view of the camera.
"The top one — that's a good thing, not a bad thing," he said.
"The top, Jonathan," the president continued. "The top."
Swan replied, "If the hospital rates were going down and deaths were going down, I'd say, 'Terrific — you deserve to be praised for testing. But they're all going up. Sixty-thousand Americans are in hospital, 1,000 dying a day."
"If you watch the news and you read the papers, they usually talk about new cases, new cases, new cases," Trump said.
"I'm talking about death," Swan responded. "It's going up."
"Death is way down from where it was," Trump said.
"It's a thousand a day," Swan pointed out. "It was two-and-a-half thousand, and it went down to 500. And now it's going back up again."
"Excuse me?" Trump said. "Where it was? It is much higher than where it is right now."
The two continued to go back and forth about whether deaths were, in fact, up or down. The reported total death toll in the U.S. stands at greater than 155,935, according to the most recent data from The New York Times. While daily deaths are still well below the national peak in April, that rate has more than doubled in recent weeks, led by ongoing spikes in the three most populous states of California, Florida and Texas, according to The Times.
In the interview, however, Trump falsely claimed that death rates were dropping in Texas and Florida.
"It's going down in Florida?" a visibly puzzled Swan asked.
"Yeah. It leveled out, and it's going down," the president said. "That's my report as of yesterday."
The president provided numerous other stunning moments throughout the interview, including defending his good wishes towards alleged sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell; saying the career of recently passed civil rights icon and Democratic Rep. John Lewis was not impressive; and admitting that in a recent conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 in Trump's favor, he had not mentioned Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Trump also said he would cut the troop presence in the country in half by Election Day.
Here is a transcript of the full exchange about COVID-19 deaths:
TRUMP: We're gonna look at some of these charts.
SWAN: I would love to.
TRUMP: We're gonna look -
SWAN: Let's look.
TRUMP: And if you look at death per -
SWAN: It's starting to go up again.
TRUMP : Here's one. Well, Right here, U.S. is lowest in numerous categories - we're lower than the world -
SWAN: Lower than the world. Lower than the world? What does that mean?
TRUMP: We're lower than Europe -
SWAN: In what? In what?
TRUMP : Take a look. Here's case death.
SWAN : Oh, you're doing death as a proportion of cases. I'm talking about death as a proportion of population. That's where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.
TRUMP: You can't- you can't do that.
SWAN: Why can't I do that?
TRUMP: You have to go by - you have to go by where - Look, here is the United States. You have to go by the cases.
SWAN: Why not as a percentage of population?
TRUMP: What it says is when you have somebody where there's a case-
SWAN: Oh, ok.
TRUMP: The people that live from those cases-
SWAN: It's surely a relevant statistic to say if the U.S. has X population and X percentage of death of that population versus South Korea-
TRUMP: No but you have to go by the cases.
SWAN: Well look at s k for ex. 51 m population, 300 deaths. its like, it's crazy compared to-
TRUMP: You don't know that
SWAN: I do. It's on -
TRUMP: You don't know that
SWAN: You think they're faking their statistics? SK? An advanced country?
TRUMP: I wont get into that bc i have a very good relationship with the country, but you don't know that. And they have spikes
SWAN: Germany low, 9000.
TRUMP: Here's one right here. The us. You take the number of cases. Look. We're last. Meaning we're first. We have the best.
SWAN: Last? I don't know what we're first in. aAs of what?
TRUMP: Take a look again. Its cases. And we have cases because of the testing.
SWAN: I mean, 1,000 Americans are dying a day. But I understand. I under on the cases it's different.
TRUMP: No, but you're not reporting it correctly, Jonathan.
SWAN: I think I am, but-
TRUMP : If you take a look at this other chart — look, this is our testing, I believe. This is the testing, yeah.
SWAN: Yeah, we do more tests.
TRUMP: No, wait a minute. Well, don't we get credit for that? And because we do more tests we have more cases. In other words we test more, we have - Now take a look. The top one. That's a good thing, not a bad thing.
TRUMP: The top, Jonathan, the top.
SWAN: If hospital rates were going down and death were going down I'd say, "Terrific, you deserve to be praised for testing." But they're all going up. 60,000 Americans are in hospital, 1,000 dying a day.
TRUMP: If you watch the news and you read the papers they usually talk about new cases, new cases, new cases.
SWAN: I'm talking about death. It's going up.
TRUMP: Death is way down from where it was.
SWAN: It's a thousand a day. It was two-and-a-half thousand and it went down to 500 and now it's going back up again.
TRUMP: Excuse me. Where it was it is much higher than where it is right now.
SWAN: It went down and it went up again.
TRUMP: It spiked. Now it's going down again.
SWAN: It's going up.
TRUMP: It's going down in Arizona, going down in Florida, it's going down in Texas-
SWAN: Nationally it's going up.
TRUMP : Take a look at this, these are the tests.
SWAN: It's going down in Florida?
TRUMP: Yeah. It leveled out and it's going down. That's my report as of yesterday.
You can watch the full interview below via YouTube: