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New Jersey governor says he would have shut state down earlier if Trump was honest about coronavirus threat

(CNN) New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday he would have taken more aggressive action to fight Covid-19 if President Donald Trump had been more honest about the true threat of coronavirus during the early days of the pandemic.

Murphy's comments come after CNN obtained audio tapes of Trump telling legendary journalist Bob Woodward that he knew weeks before the first confirmed US coronavirus death that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious and "more deadly than even your strenuous flus," and that he repeatedly played it down publicly.

Murphy said Wednesday had he known -- as Trump did -- that the virus was airborne, he would've taken steps earlier to protect his state.

"If we had known that earlier, we would have shut the state meaningfully earlier. We would have gone to a mandatory masking policy meaningfully earlier. We would have had a stay-at-home mandate put in place, all of which we did and we did it about as early as any American state but we would have done it earlier and undoubtedly would have saved lives," he said in an interview with CNN's Pam Brown on "The Lead."

"I can't tell you, as I sit here, how many we would have saved, but there's no question in my mind we would have saved lives."

In a series of interviews with Woodward for his forthcoming book "Rage," Trump revealed that he had a surprising level of detail about the threat of the virus earlier than previously known. "Pretty amazing," Trump told Woodward, adding that the coronavirus was maybe five times "more deadly" than the flu.

Trump's admissions are in stark contrast to his frequent public comments at the time insisting that the virus was "going to disappear" and "all work out fine."

"To say it's discouraging and disheartening is an understatement," Murphy said in response to hearing Woodward's tape.

"I mean, people -- people rely on trust, even when you're delivering news that's not popular, not something that folks want to hear. Folks can take it, and, you know, we've been, from moment one, trying to channel brutal honesty with the severity of this pandemic, with a path forward through that pandemic," he said.

"And to hear this and to think about the time that was wasted and the lives that have been lost, sadly, as a result of it, is extremely disheartening."

Trump addressed the book at a White House event on Wednesday afternoon, defending his response to the pandemic and claiming that "you cannot show a sense of panic or you're going to have bigger problems than you ever had before."

"The fact is I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy," Trump said. "We want to show confidence. We want to show strength."

CNN's Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb, Kevin Liptak, and Elizabeth Stuart contributed to this report.