US President Donald Trump acknowledged to a journalist early in the coronavirus pandemic that he played down the danger of the crisis despite evidence to the contrary, according to a new book.
"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told author Bob Woodward on March 19, days after declaring a national emergency.
"I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic."
CNN on Wednesday broadcast interviews Woodward did with Trump for his new book Rage.
The book, to go on sale next Tuesday, just weeks before the November 3 presidential election, comes amid criticism of Trump's efforts to battle COVID-19.
Assailed by Democratic rival Joe Biden over the slow US government response to the virus, Trump played down the crisis for months as it spread across the country.
In the March 19 conversation, Trump told Woodward some "startling facts" had emerged showing the extent of those at risk: "It's not just old, older. Young people too, plenty of young people."
Trump on Wednesday defended his handling of the virus, which has killed more than 190,000 people in the United States.
"The fact is I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country and I don't want people to be frightened," he said at the White House. "We've done well from any standard."
According to the interviews, CNN and The Washington Post reported, Trump knew the virus was dangerous in early February.
"It goes through the air," Trump said in a recording of a February 7 interview with Woodward.
"That's always tougher than the touch. You don't have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed.
"And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flus."
A week after that interview, Trump said at a White House briefing the number of US coronavirus cases "within a couple days is going to be down close to zero".
Woodward in an interview with the Associated Press defended himself from online critics who questioned why he kept Trump's comments to himself for months.
"He tells me this, and I'm thinking, 'Wow, that's interesting, but is it true?' Trump says things that don't check out, right?" the news agency quoted Woodward as saying.
Some fellow Republicans defended Trump's coronavirus response on Wednesday.
"His actions of shutting the economy down were the right actions," Senator Lindsey Graham said. "And I think the tone during that time sort of spoke for itself."
Woodward conducted 18 interviews with Trump for the book.
Other revelations include Trump's disparaging remarks about US military leaders.