The call caused former Trump representatives – including national security advisers HR McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials – to conclude that the President was often “imagined,” as was disclosed two sources, in relation to foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President had become more skilled or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. On the contrary, he continues to believe that he can lure, jawbone, or bully almost all foreign leaders to give in to his will, and often pursue goals that are more in line with his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers consider to be of national interest.
So far, the largest number of Trump telephone conversations with a head of state is with Erdogan, who sometimes calls the White House at least twice a week and is delivered directly to the President on orders from Trump, according to sources. Meanwhile, the President regularly intimidates and denigrates the leaders of America’s main allies, especially two women: to British Prime Minister Theresa May that she is weak and lacks courage; and told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she was “stupid.”
Trump unceasingly boasted to fellow heads of state, including Saudi Arabia’s autocratic heir Mohammed bin Salman and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, about his own wealth, genius, “great” achievements as President, and “stupidity” of his Oval Office predecessor , according to sources.
In his conversations with Putin and Erdogan, Trump was very pleased to pollute former President George W. Bush and Barack Obama and suggested that dealing directly with him – Trump – would be far more fruitful than during the previous administration. “They don’t know BS,” he said of Bush and Obama – one of the few figures of mockery of sources he said he liked when discussing his predecessors with Turkish and Russian leaders.
The full and detailed picture taken by CNN sources about Trump’s telephone calls with foreign leaders is consistent with the basic time period and some substantive elements of a number of calls explained by the former national security adviser John Bolton in his book
, “Room Occurred.” But the call described to CNN covered a much longer period than Bolton’s tenure, was far more comprehensive – and seemed more burdensome – in their efforts.
Like Bolton, CNN sources say that the President seems to constantly confuse his personal interests – especially for the purpose of re-election and revenge against critics and political enemies – with national interests.
To protect the anonymity of people who describe the call for this report, CNN will not disclose their job titles or quote them directly. More than a dozen officials either listened to the President’s telephone calls in real time or were given a detailed summary and hard print of the call immediately after completion, said a CNN source. Sources were interviewed by CNN repeatedly for four months until June.
The sources cite several examples where they said Trump acted responsibly and in the national interest during telephone conversations with several foreign leaders. CNN contacted Kelly, McMaster and Tillerson to comment and did not receive a response Monday afternoon. Mattis didn’t comment.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on Monday afternoon.
One person familiar with almost all conversations with Russian, Turkish, Canadian, Australian and Western European leaders described the call cumulatively as ‘abomination’ so miserable for US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses with actual conversation or reading contemporary texts and notes, even many senior Republican members will no longer be able to maintain confidence in the President.
Attack key ally leaders – especially women
The dangerous effect of the conversation stems from Trump’s tone, his anger raging in his allies while worshiping authoritarian strongmen, his ignorance of history and his lack of preparation as well as from unsettling substance, according to sources. While in office, the Director of National Intelligence and Coats at the time expressed concern to subordinates that Trump’s telephone discussions undermined the behavior of foreign relations and coherent American destinations throughout the world, said one CNN source. And in recent weeks, former Kelly’s chief of staff has mentioned the damaging impact of the President’s call on US national security to some people personally.
Two sources compare many of the President’s conversations with foreign leaders with Trump’s recent press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic: free form, fact-flowing rambling-awareness, fantasy-filled and statements outside the wall based on his intuition, guess, opinion from Fox News TV host and wrong social media information.
In addition to Merkel and May, said the source, Trump regularly bullied and belittled other western alliance leaders during his telephone conversations – including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – in the same hostile and aggressive manner he discussed coronavirus with several American governors.
Next to Erdogan, no foreign leader has started more calls with Trump than Macron, said the sources, with the French President often trying to convince Trump to change the course of environmental and security policy issues – including climate change and US withdrawal from Iran’s multilateral nuclear . corresponding.
Macron usually gets a “place” on substantive matters, while Trump gets annoyed at the flow of French President’s requests and makes it a harassment and selfish lecture described by one source as a verbal “whip” personalized, especially about France and other countries not meeting NATO spending targets, their liberal immigration policies or their trade imbalances with the US.
But the most vicious attacks, the source said, were aimed at women heads of state. In conversations with May and Merkel, the President downplays and demeans them in criticism which is described as “almost sadistic” by one source and confirmed by another. “Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel were totally unbelievable: he called him ‘stupid,’ and accused him of being in Russian pockets … He was the most formidable [in the phone calls] with those he views as weak and those who are weak with whom he must be strong. ”
The call “is very unusual,” a German official confirmed, that special measures were taken in Berlin to ensure that the contents remained confidential. The official described Trump’s behavior with Merkel in the appeal as “very aggressive” and said that the circle of German officials involved in monitoring Merkel’s call with Trump had shrunk: “Only a small group of people were involved and the reason, the main reason, was that they were in trouble. . ”
Trump’s conversation with May, the British Prime Minister
from 2016 to 2019, described as “embarrassing and intimidating,” with Trump attacking him as “a fool” and lacking courage in his approach to Brexit, NATO, and immigration matters.
“He became nervous about something with Theresa May, then he became mean with him on the phone,” said one source. “It’s the same interaction in every setting – coronavirus or Brexit – without filters.”
Merkel remained calm and seemed calm in the face of Trump’s attacks – “like water on a duck’s back,” in words from one source – and he regularly responded to his attacks with recitation of facts. The German official quoted above said that during Merkel’s visit to the White House two years ago, Trump displayed “very questionable behavior” that “was very aggressive … [T]he Chancellor did keep calm, and that’s what he did on the phone. “
Prime Minister May, by contrast, became “confused and nervous” in his conversation with the President. “He clearly intimidated him and intended,” said one CNN source. Responding to requests for comment about Trump’s behavior in a call with May, Downing Street UK referred CNN to its website. This site includes a brief description of the content of some of the calls and avoids the mention of tones or tensions. The French embassy in Washington declined to comment, while the Russian and Turkish embassies did not respond to requests for comment.
Concern over calls with Putin and Erdogan
The summons with Putin and Erdogan was terrible in that Trump was almost never prepared in a substantive manner and thus made him vulnerable to being used in various ways, according to sources – partly because of the conversation (as with most heads of state)), almost certainly recorded by the security services and other institutions in their country.
In his telephone exchange with Putin, sources reported, the President mostly talked about himself, often in self-regulating terms: praising his “unprecedented” success in building the US economy; stated in derogatory language how smarter and “stronger” he was than “fools” and “weak people” who came before him in the presidency (especially Obama); enjoyed his experience managing Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, and unconsciously adored Putin’s admiration and approval. Putin “just showed” him, said a senior administration official – comparing the Russian leader with chess grandmasters and Trump with occasional chess players. While Putin “shook the West,” said the source, the President of the United States “sat there and thought he could establish himself enough as a businessman and tough man so that Putin would respect him.” (Sometimes, Putin-Trump’s conversation sounds like “two people in a steam bath,” the source added.)
In many of the calls with Putin described to CNN, Trump left national security aides and his chief of staff stunned, less because of the special concessions he made than for his behavior – indirectly asking for Putin’s admiration and apparently asking for his approval – while usually ignoring substantive policy expertise and important matters on a permanent bilateral agenda, including human rights; and weapons control agreements, which have never been dealt with in an advanced way of sharing Russian and American goals that both Putin and Trump claimed to support, CNN sources said.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has heralded the theme “America First” as a northern star in foreign policy, advancing the view that America’s allies and enemies have taken economic advantage from US goodwill in trade. And that America’s closest allies need to increase their share of collective defense spending. He often justifies his respect for Putin by arguing that Russia is a major world player and that the United States has an interest in having constructive and friendly relations – which requires reorganization with Moscow through his personal dialogue with Putin.
In separate interviews, two high-level administrative officials familiar with most of Trump-Putin’s summons said the President naively appointed Russia – a second-tier totalitarian country with less than 4% of world GDP – and its authoritarian leader almost reached par with the United States and his President with undermine Russia’s tougher and more realistic views expressed by the US Congress, American intelligence agencies, and the long-standing consensus of post-war policy from the US and its allies in Europe. “He [Trump] providing benefits that are hard to win in the Cold War, “said one official – in part by” giving Putin and Russia legitimacy that they never had, “the official said.” He gave Russia a lifeline – because there was no doubt that they were a declining power … He played with something he didn’t understand and he gave them the power they would use [aggressively]. ”
The two officials cited Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria – a move that benefited Turkey and Russia – as perhaps the saddest example. “He gave the shop away,” one of them said.
The frequency of calls with Erdogan – where the Turkish president continues to pressure Trump for policy concessions and other assistance – is particularly worrying for McMaster, Bolton and Kelly, especially because of the ease that Erdogan has passed through the normal National Security Council. protocols and procedures for reaching the President, said two sources.
Erdogan became very adept at knowing when to contact the President directly so that several White House aides became convinced that the Turkish security service in Washington used Trump’s timetable and his whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would be available to call.
On several occasions, Erdogan contacted him on the golf course and Trump will postpone the game while both of them talk at length.
Two sources describe the President as uninformed about the history of the Syrian and Middle East conflict in general, and said he was often not vigilant, and did not have enough knowledge to engage in the same thing in nuanced policy discussions with Erdogan. “Erdogan took him to a janitor,” said one source.
The source said that the damaging US policy decisions in Syria – including the President’s directives to pull US troops out of the country, which then allowed Turkey to attack the Kurds who had helped the US fight ISIS and weakened NATO’s role in the conflict – was directly related to Erdogan’s ability to get in the way with Trump on phone calls.
Trump occasionally becomes angry with Erdogan – sometimes because of demands that Turkey be given preferential trade status, and because the Turkish leader will not release an imprisoned American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, accused of “assisting terrorism” in the 2016 coup which sought to overthrow Erdogan . Brunson was finally released in October 2018.
Despite the lack of advance notice for many of Erdogan’s calls, a full set of contemporary notes from notetakers appointed at the White House existed, as well as computer texts that produced harsh sounds from the conversation, the source said.
According to one high-level source, there is also a summary and reading of the conversation from the President’s discussion with Erdogan that might strengthen Bolton’s allegations against Trump in the so-called “Halkbank case,” which involved major Turkish banks with alleged links with Erdogan and his family. The source said the matter was raised in more than one telephone conversation between Erdogan and Trump.
Bolton wrote in his book that in December 2018, at Erdogan’s insistence, Trump offered to intervene in an investigation by US Attorney for the New York District District Geoffrey Berman to a Turkish bank, which was accused of violating US sanctions against Iran.
“Trump later told Erdogan that he would take care of everything, explaining that the Southern District prosecutor was not the person, but the Obama people, problems that would be fixed when they were replaced by their people,” Bolton wrote. The Berman Office finally filed an indictment against the bank in October 2019 for fraud, money laundering and other violations related to participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to avoid US sanctions against Iran. On June 20, Trump sacked Berman – whose office is also investigating Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer – after prosecutors refused to resign at the direction of Attorney General William Barr.
Unlike Bolton, CNN sources did not specifically state or suggest that Trump’s call with Erdogan might be a reason for impeachment because of possible evidence of unlawful behavior by the President. Instead, they characterize Trump’s call with heads of state in the aggregate as general evidence of Trump’s “no witness” to the presidency on the grounds of temperament and incompetence, a statement made by Bolton also in an interview to promote his book with ABC News last week: “I don’t think “he is suitable for the position. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the work,” Bolton said.
Family feedback and complaints trigger Trump’s approach
CNN spoke with sources familiar with the President’s phone calls repeatedly over a four-month period. In their interviews, sources are careful not to disclose specific national security information and confidential details – but rather to describe the broad content of many calls, and the overall tenor and methodology of Trump’s approach to his telephone discussions with foreign leaders.
In addition to sound and abusive software transcriptions, almost all Trump telephone conversations with Putin, Erdogan and western alliance leaders are complemented and documented by contemporary extensive records (and, often, summaries) prepared by Fiona Hill, deputy assistant president and director NSC senior to Europe and Russia until his resignation last year. Hill listened to most of the President’s calls with Putin, Erdogan and European leaders, according to his testimony which was closed in front of the House Intelligence Committee last November.
Elements of the testimony by Hill, if reviewed by Congress investigators, might provide a detailed road map of the President’s widely documented conversation, the source said. The White House and intelligence officials who are familiar with the transcriptions produced by the votes and underlying documents agree that their contents could destroy the President’s position with members of Congress from both sides – and the public – if disclosed in great detail. (There is little doubt that Trump will invoke the executive’s right to keep the conversation private. However, some former officials with detailed knowledge of many of the conversations may be willing to testify about them, the source said.)
In one of the earliest calls between Putin and Trump, President Jared Kushner’s son-in-law and Ivanka Trump were in the room to listen – joining McMaster, Tillerson, Hill, and the State Department aide to Tillerson.
“The call is everywhere,” said an NSC deputy who read a detailed summary of the conversation – with Putin speaking substantively and at length, and Trump propped himself up in a brief autobiographical outburst of boasting, self-congratulations and praise to Putin . As explained to CNN, Kushner and Ivanka Trump immediately praised their praise of how Trump handled the call – while Tillerson (who knew Putin well from his years in Russia as an oil executive), Hill and McMaster were skeptical.
Hill – Putin’s definitive biographer – began to explain some of the nuances he felt from the call, according to a CNN source – offering insights into Putin’s psychology, his “smooth speaking” approach and linear approach and what the Russian leader was doing. is trying to reach in a call. Hill was cut off by Trump, and the President continued to discuss the call with Jared and Ivanka, explaining that he wanted to hear an evaluation of congratulations on his daughter and her husband, rather than how Hill, Tillerson or McMaster valued the conversation.
McMaster viewed the initial telephone call with Putin as an indication of the implementation of all relations between Russia and the Trump administration, according to these sources – a conclusion after the national security adviser and chief of staff, and a number of high-level intelligence officials also reached: unlike in the previous government, there is relatively little meaningful relationship between military and diplomatic professionals, even at the highest levels, because Trump – does not trust experts and rejects their attempts to provide a brief explanation to him – having a largely ad hoc relationship with Putin and almost completely himself. In the end, Putin and Russia learned that “nobody has the authority to do anything” – and the Russian leader used that insight to his advantage, as one CNN source said.
The Kushners’ family was also present for other important summons with foreign leaders and made their superiority apparent, encouraged by the President even in matters of foreign policy where the daughter and her husband had no experience. Almost never, according to CNN sources, Trump will read the briefing material prepared for him by CIA and NSC staff before his call to the head of state.
“He will not consult with them, he will not even get their wisdom,” said one source, who quoted Saudi bin Salman as being near the top of the list of leaders Trump had “taken and called without anyone prepared,” a scenario often encountered NSC and intelligence assistant. The source added that the reactions of the helpless aides “often are, ‘Oh my God, don’t make that phone call.'”
“Trump’s view is that he is a better judge of character than anyone else,” said one CNN source. The president consistently rejected advice from the US chief of defense, intelligence and national security so that the Russian president be approached more assertively and with less trust. CNN sources point to the best-known public example as a “symbol”: Trump, standing next to the Russian President at their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, in June 2018, and said he “saw no reason why” Russia would interfere. in the 2016 presidential election – despite the findings of the entire US intelligence community owned by Moscow. “President Putin is very strong and strong in his rejection today,” Trump said.
The extraordinary general dynamic that characterizes Trump’s conversations with authoritarian dictators and the greatest democratic leaders in the world is his consistent statement about himself as the subject and subtext of vocation – hardly ever the United States and its historic sites and leadership in America. world, according to sources familiar with the call.
In many calls with leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Australia and Canada – America’s closest allies over the past 75 years, throughout the postwar era – Trump usually makes complaints almost as a standard or main motive for conversation, whatever the agenda should be, according to sources that source.
“Everything is always personalized, with everyone doing bad things to rip us off – which means tearing ‘me’ – Trump-off. He can’t – or won’t – see or focus on the bigger picture,” said one of they. US Official.
The source cites a concrete example that can be proven in which Trump refused to ask Angela Merkel (at British insistence) to openly hold Russia accountable for so-called ‘Salisbury’ radioactive poisoning from former Russian spies and her daughter, which Putin has denied Russian involvement despite conflicting evidence. “It takes a lot of effort” to get Trump to bring up the topic, one source said. Instead of tackling Russia’s responsibility for poisoning and bringing it into international accounts, Trump made the focus of the call – in terms of personal condescension – a German and Merkel approach which was deemed lethal for allied burden sharing. Finally, said the source, as urged by his NSC staff, Trump finally addressed the poisoning problem, almost reluctantly.
“With almost every problem, everything is needed [in his phone calls] is someone who asks him to do something as President on behalf of the United States and he doesn’t see it that way; he went to be deceived; he is not interested in cooperative problems or working together; instead he deflects things or pushes real problems into a corner, “said a US official.
“There is no sense of the ‘American Team’ in the talks,” or the United States as a historic force with certain democratic principles and free world leadership, the official said. “On the contrary. It feels like the United States has disappeared. It’s always ‘Only me’.”
Nicole Gaouette from CNN contributed to this report.