Tran­scripts de­tail Trump’s con­tentious calls

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - Peter Baker ALEX BRAN­DON / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump en­gaged in con­tentious tele­phone calls with the lead­ers of Mex­ico and Aus­tralia in his early days in of­fice, press­ing them to make con­ces­sions to sat­isfy his own do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal needs in ex­changes so sharp that he said talk­ing to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia was more pleas­ant.

Tran­scripts of his calls with Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto of Mex­ico and Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull of Aus­tralia con­firm pre­vi­ous news re­ports of ten­sion dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tions in Jan­uary, just a week af­ter Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, and show a new pres­i­dent ea­ger to ful­fill cam­paign prom­ises while de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with for­eign coun­ter­parts.

The tran­scripts, as­sem­bled from the notes of aides lis­ten­ing to the calls, were ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Post, which posted them on­line Thurs­day morn­ing. The White House did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

With Peña Ni­eto, Trump re­peat­edly threat­ened to im­pose a stiff bor­der tax to keep out Mexican prod­ucts and com­plained about “pretty tough hom­bres” who were bring­ing so many drugs over the bor­der that they had even made New Hamp­shire “a drug-in­fested den.” The big­gest point of con­tention came as the pres­i­dent in­sisted that the Mexican pres­i­dent stop say­ing pub­licly he would not pay for the wall that Trump had promised to build, at Mex­ico’s ex­pense, on the bor­der be­tween the two coun­tries.

“If you are go­ing to say that Mex­ico is not go­ing to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys any­more be­cause I can­not live with that,” Trump said.

The call with Turn­bull was even more testy as the pres­i­dent com­plained about what he called “a dis­gust­ing deal” that Aus­tralia had sealed with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in which the United States agreed to con­sider ac­cept­ing up to 1,250 eco­nomic refugees. Trump com­plained that he would look “so fool­ish” do­ing so af­ter bar­ring refugees from the rest of the world.

“I have had it,” Trump snapped to­ward the end of the call. “I have been making th­ese calls all day and this is the most un­pleas­ant call all day. Putin was a pleas­ant call. This is ridicu­lous.”

Tran­scripts of a pres­i­dent’s con­ver­sa­tions with for­eign lead­ers are rarely made pub­lic, and the dis­clo­sure of th­ese may fuel Trump’s ire over unau­tho­rized leaks. The Post did not say how it ob­tained them.

But the full ac­counts of the con­ver­sa­tions il­lus­trated Trump’s ap­proach with for­eign lead­ers: flat­ter­ing his coun­ter­part one mo­ment, bad­ger­ing him the next, al­ways con­scious of how the poli­cies be­ing dis­cussed con­nected to his cam­paign prom­ises and how they would af­fect his do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal stand­ing.

Fresh from his in­au­gu­ra­tion, he had his cam­paign vic­tory on his mind, boast­ing to Peña Ni­eto that “no one got peo­ple in the ral­lies as big as I did” and to Turn­bull that “they said I had no way to get to 270” votes in the Elec­toral Col­lege “and I got 306.” He but­tered up Peña Ni­eto, telling the in­ter­preter on their call that “he speaks bet­ter English than me,” sug­gest­ing that the Mexican pres­i­dent would be so pop­u­lar that the Mexican peo­ple will amend their con­sti­tu­tion to al­low him to run again and declar­ing that “it is you and I against the world, En­rique, do not for­get.”

But there was an edge to both con­ver­sa­tions as he sought to bring his cam­paign plat­form to fruition. The talk with Peña Ni­eto on Jan. 27 came af­ter the Mexican leader can­celed a meet­ing with Trump be­cause of their dis­pute over who would pay for the pro­posed bor­der wall. The two never re­solved that on the call, with both men clearly wor­ried about the po­lit­i­cal ef­fect in their own coun­tries.

“We find this com­pletely un­ac­cept­able for Mex­i­cans to pay for the wall that you are think­ing of build­ing,” Peña Ni­eto told Trump, ex­plain­ing how pre­car­i­ous his po­si­tion was at home. “I would also like to make you un­der­stand, Pres­i­dent Trump, the lack of mar­gin I have as pres­i­dent of Mex­ico to ac­cept this sit­u­a­tion.”

Trump too was con­scious of his own po­si­tion. “On the wall, you and I both have po­lit­i­cal prob­lem. My peo­ple stand up and say, ‘Mex­ico will pay for the wall,’ and your peo­ple probably say some­thing in a sim­i­lar but slightly dif­fer­ent lan­guage. But the fact is we are both in a lit­tle bit of a po­lit­i­cal bind be­cause I have to have Mex­ico pay for the wall. I have to. I have been talk­ing about it for a two-year pe­riod.”

Trump sug­gested pa­per­ing over the dis­pute in pub­lic com­ments: “We should both say, ‘We will work it out.’ It will work out in the for­mula some­how. As op­posed to you say­ing, ‘We will not pay’ and me say­ing, ‘We will not pay.’”

Peña Ni­eto told Trump that he had put him in a bad po­si­tion.

“You have a very big mark on our back, Mr. Pres­i­dent, re­gard­ing who pays for the wall,” he said. “This is what I sug­gest, Mr. Pres­i­dent: Let us stop talk­ing about the wall.”

Trump’s call with Turn­bull the next day, Jan. 28, proved more com­bat­ive. Trump said he had been told that he had to ac­cept refugees held by Aus­tralia on the is­lands of Nauru or Manus for more than three years.

“Some­body told me yes­ter­day that close to 2,000 peo­ple are coming who are re­ally trou­ble­some,” he com­plained to Turn­bull. “And I am say­ing, boy that will make us look aw­fully bad. Here I am calling for a ban where I am not let­ting any­body in and we take 2,000 peo­ple. Re­ally it looks like 2,000 peo­ple that Aus­tralia does not want and I do not blame you by the way, but the United States has be­come like a dump­ing ground.”

Turn­bull ex­plained that the deal did not re­quire the United States to take 2,000 peo­ple, but it was im­por­tant for the United States to live up to its com­mit­ment.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “I think we should re­spect deals.”

“Who made the deal?” Trump asked. “Obama?”

“Yes,” Turn­bull said, “but let me de­scribe what it is.” The United States had agreed only to con­sider ac­cept­ing up to 1,250 refugees, but each of them would be sub­ject to vet­ting and could be re­jected. The peo­ple at is­sue were eco­nomic refugees, mainly from Iran, Pak­istan and Afghanistan, he said, not crim­i­nals or ter­ror­ists.

“Why haven’t you let them out?” Trump de­manded. “Why have you not let them into your so­ci­ety?”

“It is not be­cause they are bad peo­ple,” Turn­bull said. “It is be­cause in order to stop peo­ple-smug­glers, we have to de­prive them of the prod­uct.”

Aus­tralia by pol­icy, he said, re­fuses to ac­cept refugees who ar­rive by boat be­cause it would en­cour­age smug­glers to keep charg­ing des­per­ate peo­ple to bring them there.

“That is a good idea,” Trump said. “We should do that too. You are worse than I am.”

Turn­bull im­plored the pres­i­dent to abide by the agree­ment.

“I am ask­ing you as a very good friend. This is a big deal. It is re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to us that we main­tain it.”

“Mal­colm, why is this so im­por­tant?” Trump said. “I do not un­der­stand. This is go­ing to kill me. I am the world’s great­est per­son that does not want to let peo­ple into the coun­try.” Go­ing along with the deal “puts me in a bad po­si­tion. It makes me look so bad and I have only been here a week,” he said.

Turn­bull re­peated that it was only 1,250 peo­ple and each of them sub­ject to vet­ting.

“I will be hon­est with you, I hate tak­ing th­ese peo­ple,” Trump said. “I guar­an­tee you they are bad. That is why they are in pri­son right now. They are not go­ing to be won­der­ful peo­ple who go on to work for the lo­cal milk peo­ple.”

“I would not be so sure about that,” Turn­bull said.

“Well, maybe you should let them out of pri­son. I am do­ing this be­cause Obama made a bad deal.”

“But I can say to you, there is noth­ing more im­por­tant in busi­ness or pol­i­tics than a deal is a deal,” Turn­bull said.

“This is a stupid deal,” Trump said. “This deal will make me look ter­ri­ble.”

“Mr. Pres­i­dent, I think this will make you look like a man who stands by the com­mit­ments of the United States.”

Trump was not buy­ing it. “OK, this shows me to be a dope,” he said. “I am not like this but if I have to do it, I will do it, but I do not like this at all.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks to Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull in a Jan. 28 call. Trump fumed at what he called “a dis­gust­ing deal” on refugees that Aus­tralia sealed with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

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