“I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down please,’ ” he said.
Soon after Trump made the comment, White House officials asserted that the President was joking.
In the interview with CBN News, Trump was asked directly if he told his administration to slow down testing, as he said at his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday night.
“No,” he answered, “but I think we put ourselves at a disadvantage, I told my people. I said, ‘We’ve gotten so good at testing … We test much more than any other nation,’ so you hear about all these cases.”
“So, instead of 25 million tests, let’s say we did 10 million tests. We’d look like we were doing much better because we’d have far fewer cases. You understand that,” Trump told CBN. “I wouldn’t do that, but I will say this: We do so much more than other countries it makes us, in a way, look bad but actually we’re doing the right thing.”
Trump also said his comment in Tulsa was “semi-tongue in cheek” and asserted that “when you do more testing you find more cases.”
“We have kids, with sniffles, and all of the sudden we report a case and they’re in no danger whatsoever,” the President added.
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters during a press briefing that Trump was speaking “in jest” and “in passing” at the rally.
“He has not directed (coronavirus testing to be slowed), and, in fact, I would note that first we continue to test about 500,000 per day, about half a million people per day,” McEnany said. “$1.8 billion dollars is invested in NIH to find new testing capabilities, any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact.”
“It was a comment that he made in jest,” McEnany added.
Earlier Monday, Trump did not directly answer when asked by a Scripps reporter if he had requested to pare back testing.
“If it did slow down, frankly, I think we’re way ahead of ourselves if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “We’ve done too good a job.”
This story has been updated with additional context.
CNN’s Maggie Fox contributed to this report.