Calls with Putin sounded like 'two guys in a steam bath'

‘Delusional’ Trump bullied Merkel and May; pandered to Putin, Erdogan — report

US president consistently unprepared, abusive in calls with leaders, CNN says; called German leader ‘stupid’ and ex-UK leader a ‘fool’; top aides brand him a national security risk

US President Donald Trump speaking on the phone in the Oval Office on June 27, 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaking on the phone in the Oval Office on June 27, 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump has been woefully and consistently unprepared, outplayed and offensive in hundreds of his phone calls with various world leaders, leading multiple senior officials in his administration to conclude that he is “delusional” and poses “a danger to the national security of the United States,” CNN reported Tuesday.

Among other reported gaffes, Trump regularly abused German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former UK prime minister Theresa May in “near-sadistic” fashion — calling Merkel “stupid” and May “weak” — while being “taken advantage of” by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The report cited an unspecified number of White House and US intelligence sources “intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.”

The sources said Trump didn’t become more competent in those calls over time and that he “continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest,” according to the report.

CNN said that among the administration officials who felt that way about Trump were national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, defense secretary James Mattis, secretary of state Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, US President Donald Trump, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, background, pose during a photo for NATO leaders in Hertfordshire, England, on December 4, 2019. (Peter Nicholls, Pool Photo via AP)

One source was quoted as saying that “if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President.”

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews commented on the report, saying: “President Trump is a world class negotiator who has consistently furthered America’s interests on the world stage. From negotiating the phase one China deal and the USMCA to NATO allies contributing more and defeating ISIS, President Trump has shown his ability to advance America’s strategic interests.”

The report said Trump regularly had tirades against many heads of state, including Merkel, May, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The most vicious attacks were directed against the two female leaders, the sources said.

“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,” one source was quoted as saying, with others confirming. “He’s toughest [in the phone calls] with those he looks at as weaklings and weakest with the ones he ought to be tough with.”

A German official was quoted as saying Trump’s calls with Merkel were so unusual that Berlin had taken special measures to ensure their contents weren’t published, including shrinking the number of officials monitoring those calls.

“It’s just a small circle of people who are involved and the reason, the main reason, is that they are indeed problematic,” the source said.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, right, and US President Donald Trump, left, walk in central London on June 4, 2019. (Frank Augstein/Various Sources/AFP)

Trump’s calls with May “were described as ‘humiliating and bullying,’ with Trump attacking her as ‘a fool’ and spineless in her approach to Brexit, NATO and immigration matters,” the report said.

While Merkel was unruffled by Trump’s behavior and received it “like water off a duck’s back,” as one source put it, May became “flustered and nervous” in the phone calls and was intimidated by the US president.

However, in conversations with Putin and Erdogan, the report said Trump was “almost never prepared substantively” and was left “susceptible to being taken advantage of in various ways.”

The calls with Putin often sounded like “two guys in a steam bath,” according to one source. Another source, a high-ranking administration official, was quoted as saying Putin “just outplays” Trump, likening the Russian leader to a chess grandmaster and Trump to an amateur checkers player.

Trump talked mostly about himself in many of the calls, particularly with Putin, the report said, “frequently in over-the-top, self-aggrandizing terms.”

In many of the calls with Putin, “Trump left top national security aides and his chiefs of staff flabbergasted, less because of specific concessions he made than because of his manner — inordinately solicitous of Putin’s admiration and seemingly seeking his approval — while usually ignoring substantive policy expertise and important matters on the standing bilateral agenda, including human rights,” according to the report.

“He’s given Russia a lifeline — because there is no doubt that they’re a declining power … He’s playing with something he doesn’t understand and he’s giving them power that they would use [aggressively],” one source was quoted as saying, giving as an example the decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.

US President Donald Trump (right) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, July 7, 2017. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Erdogan had by far the most calls with Trump, the report said, sometimes phoning twice a week. It said the Turkish leader easily bypassed normal protocols and reached Trump directly, even while the president was out playing golf.

“Erdogan became so adept at knowing when to reach the President directly that some White House aides became convinced that Turkey’s security services in Washington were using Trump’s schedule and whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would be available for a call,” the report said.

Trump was said to have proven himself utterly uninformed about the Syrian civil war and the Middle East in general. “Erdogan took him to the cleaners,” one source said.

In general, his calls almost always revolved around Trump himself rather than the United States, the report said, adding that he would take delight in trashing his predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, often saying “they didn’t know BS.”

As one US official quoted put it: “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.”

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