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 recounted, while another said 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 believes “he is a better judge of character than anyone else,” one person told Bernstein, so he typically won’t listen to expert analyses of how foreign leaders think. One of his first calls with Putin was “all over the place,” one official said, but Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — two of several officials in the room listening — immediately began praising Trump when the call ended.
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 that Trump was “very aggressive,” while Merkel stayed calm. Because the calls were “so unusual” and “problematic,” the German government has gone above and beyond to keep their contents secret, the official added.
In response to the report, White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews told CNN that Trump is “a world class negotiator who has consistently furthered America’s interests on the world stage.” Catherine Garcia