President Donald Trump’s private calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin sometimes have the tone of ‘two guys in a steam bath,’ according a bombshell account that portrays Trump as bending over backward to win the strongman’s approval.
Putin ‘just outplays’ Trump during their one-on-one interactions, according to a CNN report published Monday by legendary Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. During those calls and others with foreign leaders, Trump regularly tries to tout his own wealth and success, according to the report.
At the same time, with Putin he routinely characterizes his predecessors as ‘imbeciles’ and weaklings.
The revelations about the calls are contained in a deeply sourced – though thinly quoted – account by legendary Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein.
Trump won office in 2016 despite media criticism of his repeated praise for Putin, even as Russia was revealed by U.S. intelligence to be orchestrating an election interference and hacking campaign.
They are part of a web of Trump calls to the leaders of Australia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western European countries during his presidency that officials who see call transcripts describe as ‘abominations.’
In addition to repeatedly building up his own wealth, as he has done repeatedly in public, Trump would revel in his time running the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, according to the account.
Trump had touted a meeting with Putin at the event, although it evidently never happened. A source trashed the calls, saying that while Putin destabilizes the West, Trump ‘sits there and thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman and tough guy that Putin will respect him.’
The report came out Monday, days after the New York Times reported that Trump was briefed on intelligence that Moscow had paid a bounty to Taliban elements for killings of American soldiers. The White House on Monday denied Trump was briefed about the reported program.
Trump was described as solicitous of Putin in the calls. Putin is known as a crafty former KGB operator who often holds back in televised encounters with counterparts.
Two sources said Trump seems ‘delusional’ on his foreign leader calls, which included frequent contact with Turkey’s dictator Recep Erdogan.
Trump would go after his U.S. predecessors in the calls with Erdogan and Putin, who have both used political power to crush dissent. ‘They didn’t know BS,’ Trump said of nemesis Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
His calls included frequent derisive comments directly to prominent female national leaders – including German Chancelor Angela Merkel, who has topped the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful woman.
“Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel are just unbelievable: he called her ‘stupid,’ and accused her of being in the pocket of the Russians,’ according to a source.
Calls with May and Merkel were ‘near-sadistic,’ according to a source for the story.
Trump has repeatedly gone after Merkel publicly over a planned Nord Stream pipeline to pump gas from Russia to Germany. Trump has blasted Germany for failing to meet a 2 per cent NATO commitment on defense spending, which Trump calls ‘dues.’
The calls with Merkel were deemed so unusual that German officials kept them within a tight group. ‘It’s just a small circle of people who are involved and the reason, the main reason, is that they are indeed problematic,’ a source told Bernstein.
Former chief of staff John Kelly has called the calls damaging to national security in private conversations, according to the report.
Trump’s conversations with former British Prime Minister Theresa May were described as ‘humiliating and bullying.’
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott was regularly ‘bullied’ and disparaged in a hostile and aggressive way during calls with Trump, along with Mr Macron and Mr Trudeau, according to the report.
Sources said calls with the Australian prime minister, as well as those with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Australia and Canada, typically began with Trump establishing a grievance.
‘With almost every problem, all it takes [in his phone calls] is someone asking him to do something as President on behalf of the United States and he doesn’t see it that way, he goes to being ripped off,’ a US official said.
A spokesman for Mr Morrison denied the claims, saying: ‘The Prime Minister has only ever had polite, respectful and positive calls with the President’.
Sources said there are records of the calls taken by professional notetakers, along with voice-generated computer texts.
Detailed notes of Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine became a prime feature of his impeachment. Trump said the call was ‘perfect,’ but Democrats blasted him for trying to pressure a government to investigate his political rival.