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.
Woodward 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.
“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said in a March 19 call, according to an audio clip posted last week on The Washington Post’s website.
At the same time, Trump acknowledged on the same call that COVID-19 affected more people than he thought.
“Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. But just today, and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older,” Trump said, adding, “young people, too, plenty of young people.”
Speaking with TODAY, Woodward also addressed criticism he has received for not releasing the audio of Trump downplaying 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.'”
Trump also told Woodward in February that the coronavirus was “deadly stuff.”
“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said, according to The Post. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”
After releasing the audio of Trump talking about the coronavirus and his relationships with foreign leaders, Woodward said he may release more tapes.
“I’m releasing the ones that are relevant as people ask for them,” he said. “It’s quite an archive.”