Trump's phone calls with world leaders are said to be so unhinged that US officials think the president is 'delusional' and a national security threat

Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesPresident Trump on the phone in the Oval Office in 2017 with King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
  • The Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein on Monday painted a scathing portrait of President Donald Trump’s conduct on the world stage, particularly as it relates to his conversations with other leaders.
  • Multiple sources described the US president as bullying and belittling allies while fawning over autocratic leaders.
  • Sources said that Trump behaved in a “near-sadistic” fashion with female leaders; that he talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin as if they’re “two guys in a steam bath”; and that Turkey’s president “took him to the cleaners.”
  • Trump’s behaviour was said to be so unusual and erratic that it convinced several senior administration officials that the president was “delusional.”
  • In some cases, Bernstein’s CNN report said, Trump’s actions led White House officials to conclude that the president posed a national security threat.
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Turns of phrase like “baked in the cake” and “shocking, but unsurprising,” have become cliché in the Trump era, but a Monday report by the journalist Carl Bernstein presented a damning overview of President Donald Trump’s conduct on the world stage, particularly as it relates to his conversations with other leaders.

Writing for CNN, Bernstein, who is best known for his reporting on the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, talked to multiple sources over a four-month period. The sources were anonymously cited in the story but largely confirmed details that had been previously reported by other outlets and testified to in public hearings.

Overall, these sources painted a scathing portrait of a US president who bullies and belittles allies while fawning over autocratic leaders. The White House did not respond to a request for comment from CNN before publication.

  • One person familiar with Trump’s conversations with leaders from Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe described the calls to CNN as “abominations.”
  • A source told the outlet that Trump subjected French President Emmanuel Macron to lectures and verbal “whippings” on issues like trade, immigration, and NATO.
  • Trump behaved in a “near-sadistic” manner toward German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, according to one source. Several other sources confirmed the detail to CNN as well.
  • Some of the harshest depictions of Trump as lacking preparedness on critical issues stem from his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    • During their phone calls, according to CNN and previous media reports, Trump often boasts about himself and builds up his business acumen while repeatedly praising the Russian leader and seeking his approval.
    • The US president “gives away the advantage that was hard won in the Cold War” and has “given Russia a lifeline,” a high-level administration official told CNN.
    • Another administration official told CNN that Putin “just outplays” Trump. Another source said that sometimes their conversations resemble that of “two guys in a steam bath.”
  • One source told CNN that Trump “gave away the store” when he decided to pull US troops from Syria, handing a massive victory to both Turkey and Russia.
  • More broadly, Trump is said to have little knowledge of issues related to Syria and the Middle East and to have been unprepared to discuss critical policy issues with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    • “Erdogan took him to the cleaners,” one source told CNN.
Trump erdogan turkeyREUTERS/Kevin LamarqueTrump with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the UN General Assembly in New York City in 2017.

Taken together, Trump’s actions convinced senior administration officials – like the former national security advisers John Bolton and HR McMaster, former Defence Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former chief of staff John Kelly, and multiple intelligence officials – that Trump was “delusional,” according to Bernstein.

Indeed, Trump’s controversial approach to handling phone calls on issues of national security with foreign leaders has been well documented in both media reports and congressional testimony. Overall, as Bernstein reported, Trump’s behaviour led many officials to believe that the president himself posed a national security threat to the US.

  • The highest-profile example is a July 25 phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to launch investigations targeting one of Trump’s political rivals, Joe Biden, ahead of the 2020 US election. That phone call and subsequent attempts to cover up its contents led to Trump’s impeachment, during which Democratic lawmakers accused the president of compromising national security for his personal political interests.
  • Trump “instinctively” decided to pull US troops from northern Syria – a move that had far-reaching consequences in the region – after a phone call with Turkey’s Erdogan.
  • In a March 2018 phone call with Putin, Trump congratulated the Russian leader on his victory in a rigged election even after US national security officials warned him “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in briefing materials before the call.
  • Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders were so concerning that the White House tried to conceal transcripts of the conversations, especially those with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Putin, as previously reported.
  • White House staffers were “genuinely horrified” by Trump’s phone calls with Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed.
  • The president at one point weighed barring all officials from listening to his calls with foreign leaders, which intelligence veterans said would have been catastrophic for US national security.
  • White House staffers reportedly need to “babysit” during the president’s phone calls with foreign leaders because he is often unprepared and goes off-script.
  • Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, used to mute the line during Trump’s calls with foreign leaders to urge the president not to discuss sensitive topics.

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