When President Trump talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the phone, he is often unprepared, lacks historical knowledge, praises himself, and talks trash about former presidents, several people with firsthand knowledge of the calls told CNN’s Carl Bernstein.
Over the last four months, Bernstein spoke with more than a dozen officials who have either listened to Trump’s phone conversations with foreign leaders in real time or were given detailed summaries and recording printouts of the calls. They did not reveal any classified information, but did share their opinions on Trump’s behavior, with one person saying the calls are “abominations” and if they ever told members of Congress about the conversations even top Republicans would lose confidence in Trump.
During his talks with Putin, several sources told Bernstein, Trump mostly talks about himself and how successful he has been. Trump “sits there and thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman and tough guy that Putin will respect him,” one person said, while another declared that Trump “gives away the advantage that was hard won in the Cold War” in part by “giving Putin and Russia a legitimacy they never had.”
Trump typically won’t listen to experts who try to explain how leaders like Putin think, as “his view is he is a better judge of character than anyone else,” one person told Bernstein. During one of his first calls to Putin, several people were in the room, including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. The call was “all over the place,” one official said, but as soon as Trump hung up, Ivanka and Jared began praising him.
While Trump fawned over Putin and Erdogan, he went out of his way to be combative with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former British Prime Minister Theresa May, and French President Emmanuel Macron, Bernstein reports. Trump told May she lacks courage, called Merkel “stupid,” and would lecture Macron when he tried to convince him to take climate change seriously. One German official told Bernstein Trump was “very aggressive,” while Merkel stayed calm. Because the calls were “so unusual,” the German government has gone above and beyond to keep their contents secret, the official added.
In response to the report, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews told CNN Trump is “a world class negotiator who has consistently furthered America’s interests on the world stage.” Catherine Garcia