New reporting from CNN: From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials

In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America's principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials — including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff — that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.  

The list of former security people includes Bolton, McMaster, Tillerson (of “fucking moron” fame), Kelly, and unnamed “intelligence officials” (including former DNI Coats).  There also appear to be some current officials as unnamed sources. They all say in various ways that Trump never learned anything, never grew into the job, remains to this day convinced “that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will” and — surprise! — continually put his own interests over the country’s.

The reporting was based on interviews with people who had actually listened in on the phone calls; CNN agreed not to give identifying details. The report says this information is consistent with the picture painted in Bolton’s book (so one more reason you don’t need to buy it).

CNN spoke to sources familiar with the President's phone calls repeatedly over a four-month period. In their interviews, the sources took great care not to disclose specific national security information and classified details — but rather described the broad contents of many of the calls, and the overall tenor and methodology of Trump's approach to his telephone discussions with foreign leaders.

One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as 'abominations' so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President.

I think that’s wishful thinking, myself. The Republicans have so chained themselves to Trump’s anchor that if he shot Angela Merkel on Fifth Avenue they wouldn’t say boo.

Interesting note:

By far the greatest number of Trump's telephone discussions with an individual head of state were with Erdogan, who sometimes phoned the White House at least twice a week and was put through directly to the President on standing orders from Trump, according to the sources.

On some occasions Erdogan reached him on the golf course and Trump would delay play while the two spoke at length.

The dictator of Turkey can get through any time he wants; even Putin doesn’t have that kind of access (maybe he doesn’t need it). But it does make one wonder what new deals Trump wants to make there or perhaps what current deals he wants to protect. Or maybe Erdogan has his own set of pee tapes?

Trump routinely trashed most of our allies in these calls, but not surprisingly, allies with women leaders (the ones who, not coincidentally, have been doing the best handling of the pandemic) come in for special vitriol:

But his most vicious attacks, said the sources, were aimed at women heads of state. In conversations with both May and Merkel, the President demeaned and denigrated them in diatribes described as “near-sadistic” by one of the sources and confirmed by others. “Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel are just unbelievable: he called her 'stupid,' and accused her of being in the pocket of the Russians … He's toughest [in the phone calls] with those he looks at as weaklings and weakest with the ones he ought to be tough with.”  

Trump never prepared for these calls, was appalling uninformed about issues:

Almost never, according to CNN's sources, would Trump read the briefing materials prepared for him by the CIA and NSC staff in advance of his calls with heads of state.

 He would spend much of the time bragging about himself, especially with Putin:

In numerous calls with Putin that were described to CNN, Trump left top national security aides and his chiefs of staff flabbergasted, less because of specific concessions he made than because of his manner — inordinately solicitous of Putin's admiration and seemingly seeking his approval — while usually ignoring substantive policy expertise and important matters on the standing bilateral agenda, including human rights; and an arms control agreement, which never got dealt with in a way that advanced shared Russian and American goals that both Putin and Trump professed to favor, CNN's sources said.  [emphasis added]

We’ve always known a lot of this. Now we’re hearing this from the people who were in the room, listening in.

  • June 29, 2020