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Bob Woodward reveals new Trump audio saying he gets along with 'tougher,' 'meaner' leaders

In an exclusive interview with TODAY, Bob Woodward says Trump “possessed specific knowledge that could have saved lives” during the coronavirus pandemic. He also discusses the president’s affinity for despotic rulers like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.
/ Source: TODAY

Veteran journalist Bob Woodward shared a new audio clip from his forthcoming book on TODAY Monday in which President Donald Trump muses about how he has better relationships with despotic leaders like Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while the "easy ones" are leaders that he doesn't "get along with as much."

"I get along very well with Erdogan, even though you're not supposed to because everyone says what a horrible guy, but for me it works out good," Trump says on the tape, played exclusively on TODAY. "It's funny, the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them, you ought to explain that to me some day, but maybe it's not a bad thing.

"The easy ones are the ones I maybe don't like as much or don't get along with as much," Trump says.

The Washington Post journalist said Trump "smears" democratic South Korea "time and time again" during their interviews, while often remarking about his relationships with autocrats like Erdogan, Russia's Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

"He is the face of the United States to the world, and he has said, and there it is, 'Hey look, I get along with these bad guys but not the good guys,''' Woodward told Savannah Guthrie.

Woodward's new book "Rage" comes out on Tuesday. It features nine hours of interviews from 18 phone calls he had with Trump from December to July, as well as interviews with unnamed White House aides.

Political fallout from the book has centered around a March interview in which Trump told Woodward he deliberately downplayed the threat of the coronavirus pandemic to the American public because he didn't want to create a panic.

Woodward told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie the president "possessed the specific knowledge that could have saved lives" in January.

In his book, Woodward writes the president's national security advisers warned him on Jan. 28 that the pandemic was coming to the United States. National security advisor Robert C. O'Brien told Trump, “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” Woodward writes, according to The Washington Post.

Woodward told TODAY that the president missed a chance to warn the public, and that historians would write about "the lost month of February." That same month, Trump told Woodward that the coronavirus was "deadly stuff" and "more deadly than even your strenuous flu," according audio released by the Post.

"It is one of those shocks for me, having written about nine presidents, that the president of the United States possessed the specific knowledge that could have saved lives," Woodward said on TODAY.

During Monday's interview, Woodward also addressed criticism he has received for not releasing the audio of Trump discussing the virus until now, saying he believed at the time the president was talking about the virus' threat to China.

"Because in February I thought it was all about China, because the president had told me about a discussion with Chinese president Xi (Jinping), and if you look at what is known in February, the virus was not on anyone's mind," Woodward said. "No one was suggesting changing behavior. Then, when it exploded in March — as you know, there were 30,000 new cases a day — publishing something at that point would not have been telling people anything they didn't know. They knew very clearly that it was dangerous."

During a press conference on Sept. 9, the president responded to questions about playing down the virus, telling reporters he was trying to avoid "panic."

"We have to show calm," he said. "Certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We have to show strength. We don't want to go around screaming, 'Look at this, look at this.'"

Asked Monday if he planned to release more tapes from his interviews with the president, Woodward said he might.

"I'm releasing the ones that are relevant, as people ask for them," he said. "It's quite an archive."