The calls caused former top Trump deputies — including national security advisers H.R. McMaster as well as John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials — to conclude of which the President was often “delusional,” as two sources put of which, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence of which the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe of which he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, as well as often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest.
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 as well as was put through directly to the President on standing orders by Trump, according to the sources. Meanwhile, the President regularly bullied as well as demeaned the leaders of America’s principal allies, especially two women: telling Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom she was weak as well as lacked courage; as well as telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel of which she was “stupid.”
Trump incessantly boasted to his fellow heads of state, including Saudi Arabia’s autocratic royal heir Mohammed bin Salman as well as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, about his own wealth, genius, “great” accomplishments as President, as well as the “idiocy” of his Oval Office predecessors, according to the sources.
In his conversations with both Putin as well as Erdogan, Trump took special delight in trashing former Presidents George W. Bush as well as Barack Obama as well as suggested of which dealing directly with him — Trump — would likely be far more fruitful than during previous administrations. “They didn’t know BS,” he said of Bush as well as Obama — one of several derisive tropes the sources said he favored when discussing his predecessors with the Turkish as well as Russian leaders.
Like Bolton, CNN’s sources said of which the President seemed to continually conflate his own personal interests — especially for purposes of re-election as well as revenge against perceived critics as well as political enemies — with the national interest.
To protect the anonymity of those describing the calls due to of which report, CNN will not reveal their job titles nor quote them at length directly. More than a dozen officials either listened to the President’s phone calls in real time or were provided detailed summaries as well as rough-text recording printouts of the calls soon after their completion, CNN’s sources said. The sources were interviewed by CNN repeatedly over a four-month period extending into June.
The sources did cite some instances in which they said Trump acted responsibly as well as inside national interest during telephone discussions with some foreign leaders. CNN reached out to Kelly, McMaster as well as Tillerson for comment as well as received no response as of Monday afternoon. Mattis did not comment.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment before of which story published. After publication, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews said, “President Trump is actually a world class negotiator who has consistently furthered America’s interests on the globe stage. by negotiating the phase one China deal as well as the USMCA to NATO allies contributing more as well as defeating ISIS, President Trump has shown his ability to advance America’s strategic interests.”
One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia as well as western Europe described the calls cumulatively as ‘abominations’ so grievous to US national security interests of which if members of Congress heard by witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts as well as contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would likely no longer be able to retain confidence inside President.
Attacking key ally leaders — especially women
The insidious effect of the conversations comes by Trump’s tone, his raging outbursts at allies while fawning over authoritarian strongmen, his ignorance of history as well as lack of preparation as much as of which does by the troubling substance, according to the sources. While in office, then- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed worry to subordinates of which Trump’s telephone discussions were undermining the coherent conduct of foreign relations as well as American objectives around the globe, one of CNN’s sources said. as well as in recent weeks, former chief of staff Kelly has mentioned the damaging impact of the President’s calls on US national security to several individuals in private.
Two sources compared many of the President’s conversations with foreign leaders to Trump’s recent press “briefings” on the coronavirus pandemic: free form, fact-deficient stream-of-consciousness ramblings, full of fantasy as well as off-the-wall pronouncements based on his intuitions, guesswork, the opinions of Fox News TV hosts as well as social media misinformation.
In addition to Merkel as well as May, the sources said, Trump regularly bullied as well as disparaged some other leaders of the western alliance during his phone conversations — including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — inside same hostile as well as aggressive way he discussed the coronavirus with some of America’s governors.
Next to Erdogan, no foreign leader initiated more calls with Trump than Macron, the sources said, with the French President often trying to convince Trump to change course on environmental as well as security policy matters — including climate change as well as US withdrawal by the Iranian multilateral nuclear accord.
Macron usually got “nowhere” on substantive matters, while Trump became irritated at the French President’s stream of requests as well as subjected him to self-serving harangues as well as lectures of which were described by one source as personalized verbal “whippings,” especially about France as well as some other countries not meeting NATO spending targets, their liberal immigration policies or their trade imbalances with the US.
however his most vicious attacks, said the sources, were aimed at women heads of state. In conversations with both May as well as Merkel, the President demeaned as well as denigrated them in diatribes described as “near-sadistic” by one of the sources as well as confirmed by others. “Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel are just unbelievable: he called her ‘stupid,’ as well as accused her of being inside pocket of the Russians … He’s toughest [inside phone calls] with those he looks at as weaklings as well as weakest with the ones he ought to be tough with.”
The calls “are so unusual,” confirmed a German official, of which special measures were taken in Berlin to ensure of which their contents remained secret. The official described Trump’s behavior with Merkel inside calls as “very aggressive” as well as said of which the circle of German officials involved in monitoring Merkel’s calls with Trump has shrunk: “of which’s just a modest circle of people who are involved as well as the reason, the main reason, is actually of which they are indeed problematic.”
“He’d get agitated about something with Theresa May, then he’d get nasty with her on the phone call,” One source said. “of which’s the same interaction in every setting — coronavirus or Brexit — with just no filter applied.”
Merkel remained calm as well as outwardly unruffled inside face of Trump’s attacks —”like water off a duck’s back,” inside words of one source — as well as she regularly countered his bluster with recitations of fact. The German official quoted above said of which during Merkel’s visit to the White House two years ago, Trump displayed “very questionable behavior” of which “was quite aggressive … [T]he Chancellor indeed stayed calm, as well as of which’s what she does on the phone.”
Prime Minister May, in contrast, became “flustered as well as nervous” in her conversations with the President. “He clearly intimidated her as well as meant to,” said one of CNN’s sources. In response to a request for comment about Trump’s behavior in calls with May, the UK’s Downing Street referred CNN to its website. The site lists brief descriptions of the content of some calls as well as avoids any mention of tone or tension. The French embassy in Washington declined to comment, while the Russian as well as Turkish embassies did not respond to requests for comment.
Concerns over calls with Putin as well as Erdogan
The calls with Putin as well as Erdogan were particularly egregious in terms of Trump almost never being prepared substantively as well as therefore leaving him susceptible to being taken advantage of in various ways, according to the sources — in part because those conversations (as with most heads of state), were almost certainly recorded by the security services as well as some other agencies of their countries.
In his phone exchanges with Putin, the sources reported, the President talked mostly about himself, frequently in over-the-top, self-aggrandizing terms: touting his “unprecedented” success in building the US economy; asserting in derisive language how much smarter as well as “stronger” he is actually than “the imbeciles” as well as “weaklings” who came before him inside presidency (especially Obama); reveling in his experience running the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, as well as obsequiously courting Putin’s admiration as well as approval. Putin “just outplays” him, said a high-level administration official — comparing the Russian leader to a chess grandmaster as well as Trump to an occasional player of checkers. While Putin “destabilizes the West,” said of which source, the President of the United States “sits there as well as thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman as well as tough guy of which Putin will respect him.” (At times, the Putin-Trump conversations sounded like “two guys in a steam bath,” a source added.)
In numerous calls with Putin of which were described to CNN, Trump left top national security aides as well as his chiefs of staff flabbergasted, less because of specific concessions he made than because of his manner — inordinately solicitous of Putin’s admiration as well as seemingly seeking his approval — while usually ignoring substantive policy expertise as well as important matters on the standing bilateral agenda, including human rights; as well as an arms control agreement, which never got dealt with in a way of which advanced shared Russian as well as American goals of which both Putin as well as Trump professed to favor, CNN’s sources said.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has touted the theme of “America First” as his north star in foreign policy, advancing the view of which America’s allies as well as adversaries have taken economic advantage of US goodwill in trade. as well as of which America’s closest allies need to improve their share of collective defense spending. He frequently justifies his seeming deference to Putin by arguing of which Russia is actually a major world player as well as of which of which is actually inside United States’ interest to have a constructive as well as friendly relationship — requiring a reset with Moscow through his personal dialogue with Putin.
In separate interviews, two high-level administration officials familiar with most of the Trump-Putin calls said the President naively elevated Russia — a second-rate totalitarian state with less than 4% of the globe’s GDP — as well as its authoritarian leader almost to parity with the United States as well as its President by undermining the tougher, more realistic view of Russia expressed by the US Congress, American intelligence agencies as well as the long-standing post-war policy consensus of the US as well as its European allies. “He [Trump] gives away the advantage of which was hard won inside Cold War,” said one of the officials — in part by “giving Putin as well as Russia a legitimacy they never had,” the official said. “He’s given Russia a lifeline — because there is actually no doubt of which they’re a declining power … He’s playing with something he doesn’t understand as well as he’s giving them power of which they would likely use [aggressively].”
Both officials cited Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria — a move of which benefited Turkey as well as Russia — as perhaps the most grievous example. “He gave away the store,” one of them said.
The frequency of the calls with Erdogan — in which the Turkish president continually pressed Trump for policy concessions as well as some other favors — was especially worrisome to McMaster, Bolton as well as Kelly, the more so because of the ease with which Erdogan bypassed normal National Security Council protocols as well as procedures to reach the President, said two of the sources.
Erdogan became so adept at knowing when to reach the President directly of which some White House aides became convinced of which Turkey’s security services in Washington were using Trump’s schedule as well as whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would likely be available for a call.
On some occasions Erdogan reached him on the golf course as well as Trump would likely delay play while the two spoke at length.
Two sources described the President as woefully uninformed about the history of the Syrian conflict as well as the Middle East generally, as well as said he was often caught off guard, as well as lacked sufficient knowledge to engage on equal terms in nuanced policy discussion with Erdogan. “Erdogan took him to the cleaners,” said one of the sources.
The sources said of which deleterious US policy decisions on Syria — including the President’s directive to pull US forces out of the country, which then allowed Turkey to attack Kurds who had helped the US fight ISIS as well as weakened NATO’s role inside conflict — were directly linked to Erdogan’s ability to get his way with Trump on the phone calls.
Trump occasionally became angry at Erdogan — sometimes because of demands of which Turkey be granted preferential trade status, as well as because the Turkish leader would likely not Discharge an imprisoned American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, accused of ‘aiding terrorism’ inside 2016 coup of which attempted to overthrow Erdogan. Brunson was eventually released in October 2018.
Despite the lack of advance notice for many of Erdogan’s calls, full sets of contemporaneous notes by designated notetakers at the White House exist, as well as rough voice-generated computer texts of the conversations, the sources said.
According to one high-level source, there are also existing summaries as well as conversation-readouts of the President’s discussions with Erdogan of which might reinforce Bolton’s allegations against Trump inside so-called “Halkbank case,” involving a major Turkish bank with suspected ties to Erdogan as well as his family. of which source said the matter was raised in more than one telephone conversation between Erdogan as well as Trump.
Bolton wrote in his book of which in December 2018, at Erdogan’s urging, Trump offered to interfere in an investigation by then-US Attorney for the Southern District of completely new York Geoffrey Berman into the Turkish bank, which was accused of violating US sanctions on Iran.
“Trump then told Erdogan he would likely take care of things, explaining of which the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, however were Obama people, a problem of which would likely be fixed when they were replaced by his people,” Bolton wrote. Berman’s office eventually brought an indictment against the bank in October 2019 for fraud, money laundering as well as some other offenses related to participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade the US sanctions on Iran. On June 20, Trump fired Berman — whose office is actually also investigating Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer — after the prosecutor refused to resign at Attorney General William Barr’s direction.
Unlike Bolton, CNN’s sources did not assert or suggest specifically of which Trump’s calls with Erdogan might have been grounds for impeachment because of possible evidence of unlawful conduct by the President. Rather, they characterized Trump’s calls with heads of state inside aggregate as evidence of Trump’s general “unfitness” for the presidency on grounds of temperament as well as incompetence, an assertion Bolton made as well in an interview to promote his book with ABC News last week: “I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job,” Bolton said.
Family feedback as well as grievances fuel Trump’s approach
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 as well as classified details — however rather described the broad contents of many of the calls, as well as the overall tenor as well as methodology of Trump’s approach to his telephone discussions with foreign leaders.
In addition to rough, voice-generated software transcription, almost all of Trump’s telephone conversations with Putin, Erdogan as well as leaders of the western alliance were supplemented as well as documented by extensive contemporaneous note-taking (as well as, often, summaries) prepared by Fiona Hill, deputy assistant to the President as well as senior NSC director for Europe as well as Russia until her resignation last year. Hill listened to most of the President’s calls with Putin, Erdogan as well as the European leaders, according to her closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last November.
Elements of of which testimony by Hill, if re-examined by Congressional investigators, might provide a detailed road-map of the President’s extensively-documented conversations, the sources said. White House as well as intelligence officials familiar with the voice-generated transcriptions as well as underlying documents agreed of which their contents could be devastating to the President’s standing with members of the Congress of both parties — as well as the public — if revealed in great detail. (There is actually little doubt of which Trump would likely invoke executive privilege to keep the conversations private. However, some former officials with detailed knowledge of many of the conversations might be willing to testify about them, sources said.)
In one of the earliest calls between Putin as well as Trump, the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner as well as Ivanka Trump were inside room to listen — joining McMaster, Tillerson, Hill, as well as a State Department aide to Tillerson.
“The call was all over the place,” said an NSC deputy who read a detailed summary of the conversation — with Putin speaking substantively as well as at length, as well as Trump propping himself up in short autobiographical bursts of bragging, self-congratulation as well as flattery toward Putin. As described to CNN, Kushner as well as Ivanka Trump were immediately effusive in their praise of how Trump had handled the call — while Tillerson (who knew Putin well by his years in Russia as an oil executive), Hill as well as McMaster were skeptical.
Hill — author of a definitive biography of Putin — began to explain some of the nuances she perceived by the call, according to CNN’s sources — offering insight into Putin’s psychology, his typical “smooth-talking” as well as linear approach as well as what the Russian leader was trying to achieve inside call. Hill was cut off by Trump, as well as the President continued discussing the call with Jared as well as Ivanka, creating clear he wanted to hear the congratulatory evaluation of his daughter as well as her husband, rather than how Hill, Tillerson or McMaster judged the conversation.
McMaster viewed of which early phone call with Putin as indicative of the conduct of the whole relationship between Russia as well as the Trump administration, according to the sources — a conclusion subsequent national security advisers as well as chiefs of staff, as well as numerous high-ranking intelligence officials also reached: unlike in previous administrations, there were relatively few meaningful dealings between military as well as diplomatic professionals, even at the highest levels, because Trump — distrustful of the experts as well as dismissive of their attempts to brief him — conducted the relationship largely ad hoc with Putin as well as almost totally by himself. Ultimately, Putin as well as the Russians learned of which “nobody has the authority to do anything” — as well as the Russian leader used of which insight to his advantage, as one of CNN’s sources said.
The Kushners were also present for some other important calls with foreign leaders as well as made their primacy apparent, encouraged by the President even on matters of foreign policy in which his daughter as well as her husband had no experience. Almost never, according to CNN’s sources, would likely Trump read the briefing materials prepared for him by the CIA as well as NSC staff in advance of his calls with heads of state.
“He won’t consult them, he won’t even get their wisdom,” said one of the sources, who cited Saudi Arabia’s bin Salman as near the top of a list of leaders whom Trump “picks up as well as calls without anybody being prepared,” a scenario of which frequently confronted NSC as well as intelligence aides. The source added of which the aides’ helpless reaction “would likely frequently be, ‘Oh my God, don’t make of which phone call.'”
“Trump’s view is actually of which he is actually a better judge of character than anyone else,” said one of CNN’s sources. The President consistently rejected advice by US defense, intelligence as well as national security principals of which the Russian president be approached more firmly as well as with less trust. CNN’s sources pointed to the most notable public example as “emblematic”: Trump, standing next to the Russian President at their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, in June 2018, as well as saying he “didn’t see any reason why” Russia would likely have interfered inside 2016 presidential election — despite the findings of the entire US intelligence community of which Moscow had. “President Putin was extremely strong as well as powerful in his denial today,” Trump said.
The common, overwhelming dynamic of which characterizes Trump’s conversations with both authoritarian dictators as well as leaders of the globe’s greatest democracies is actually his consistent assertion of himself as the defining subject as well as subtext of the calls — almost never the United States as well as its historic place as well as leadership inside globe, according to sources intimately familiar with the calls.
In numerous calls with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Australia as well as Canada — America’s closest allies of the past 75 years, the whole postwar era — Trump typically established a grievance almost as a default or leitmotif of the conversation, whatever the supposed agenda, according to those sources.
“Everything was always personalized, with everybody doing terrible things to rip us off — which meant ripping ‘me’ — Trump — off. He couldn’t — or wouldn’t — see or focus on the larger picture,” said one US official.
The source cited a conspicuously demonstrable instance in which Trump resisted asking Angela Merkel (at the UK’s urging) to publicly hold Russia accountable for the so-called ‘Salisbury’ radioactive poisonings of a former Russian spy as well as his daughter, in which Putin had denied any Russian involvement despite voluminous evidence to the contrary. “of which took a lot of effort” to get Trump to bring up the subject, said one source. Instead of addressing Russia’s responsibility for the poisonings as well as holding of which to international account, Trump made the focus of the call — in personally demeaning terms — Germany’s as well as Merkel’s supposedly deadbeat approach to allied burden-sharing. Eventually, said the sources, as urged by his NSC staff, Trump at last addressed the matter of the poisonings, almost grudgingly.
“With almost every problem, all of which takes [in his phone calls] is actually someone asking him to do something as President on behalf of the United States as well as he doesn’t see of which of which way; he goes to being ripped off; he’s not interested in cooperative issues or working on them together; instead he’s deflecting things or pushing real issues off into a corner,” said a US official.
“There was no sense of ‘Team America’ inside conversations,” or of the United States as an historic force with certain democratic principles as well as leadership of the free world, said the official. “The opposite. of which was like the United States had disappeared. of which was always ‘Just me’.”
UPDATE: of which story has been updated with comment by the White House.
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette contributed to of which report.