It will probably not come as a surprise that days after the biggest shake up among White House communications personnel, the Washington Post obtained transcripts of President Trump's classified calls with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull from the early days of his presidency back in January. While details of the calls had been made public previously, this is the first time entire transcripts have leaked out.
Back then, when the biggest issue on Trump's domestic policy plate was the issue of the "Great Wall" across the Mexican border, and the fate of refugees coming into the US, which eventually led to various lawsuits blocking Trump's immigration and travel ban from several mostly Muslim countries, the president expressed frustration over accepting refugees from Australian detention centers under a humanitarian deal negotiated by the Obama administration and candidly discussed the Mexican border wall, telling the Mexican president "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."
One of the funniest lines: "On the wall, you and I both have a 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."
In a line likely to surprise some Trump supporters, the president described the wall as "the least important thing we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important."
On the sensitive issue of payment, Trump told the Mexican president "you cannot say that to the press,” urging him to refrain from the public statements because of the political damage it would impose on Trump. He also asked Nieto not to oppose Trump's demand that Mexico pay for the wall, telling him the funding would "come out in the wash, and that is okay."
Trump said both he and Nieto should say they “will work it out” when forced to answer questions about the wall. Nieto pushed back at Trump's demands, saying the wall was "an issue related to the dignity of Mexico and goes to the national pride of my country.”
He ultimately said he would “stop talking about the wall” but did not agree in anyway that Mexico would pay for its construction. Since the call, Trump has continued to publicly say that Mexico would pay for the wall when he has been asked about it, even as the government has taken steps to fund it in different ways. The House has included $1.6 billion in funding for the wall in an appropriations measure under consideration by Congress. Democrats oppose including any more for the way in appropriations measures.
In another controversial exchange with the Mexican leader over the drug problem in the US and Mexico, Trump said "We have a massive drug problem where kids are becoming addicted to drugs because the drugs are being sold for less money than candy. I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den."
In a separate phone call, Trump told Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this year that he had a better call with Russian President Vladimir Putin before ending a contentious phone call. Trump argued with Turnbull over an agreement on refugees the U.S. president thought was unfair during their first conversation following his inauguration.
“I have had it,” Trump told his Australian counterpart during the Jan. 28 call, according to the same leaked transcript. “I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day.”
Some other Turnbull call highlights:
- "This is going to kill me. I am the world's greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people."
- "I hate taking these people. 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."
Aside from embarrassing the president, the leaks present a major headache for Gen. Kelly, Trump's new chief of staff, who is expected to bring back normalcy to the Oval cabinet. As The Hill notes, the disclosure is likely to raise alarms at the White House, which has struggled to contain leaks of classified and sensitive information. As Axios adds, the calls remain classified, so the fact that the transcripts made it to the Post is a serious issue. Both documents include notes that the transcripts had been reviewed by Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg Jr., the chief of staff for the National Security Council.
Trump’s calls with foreign leaders have not been declassified. The White House said in February, days after the call, it would probe how the details of the call became public