On Thursday, The Washington Post printed transcripts from January 27 phone calls made by then-brand-new President Trump to his counterparts in Mexico and Australia. These transcripts are full transcripts, unlike the excerpted portions that appeared earlier this year. It’s unclear how the Post obtained the transcripts – but it’s supremely dangerous.
The White House has suffered from a shocking level of leaks since before Trump’s inauguration, but this leak is of a different level and kind than prior leaks. Prior leaks dealt with staffing or investigations of White House personnel. Those are bad enough, undermining Trump’s ability to run his White House and threatening his capacity to pursue his policy agenda without a cloud of unconfirmed suspicion. But this is significantly worse. This a leak of foreign policy information that should be kept from public eyes – not because the American people must be shielded from Trump’s negotiation tactics, but because America’s enemies should not be privy to such information. We can only be thankful that the leaks dealt with issues regarding Australia and Mexico, and not other countries in more hot-button areas. Imagine a leak of a presidential phone call to South Korea’s leadership, for example.
The transcripts themselves are not edifying. Trump appears at a loss on policy, seems to focus mainly on his image as a strong leader rather than on issues of mutual benefit or obstacles to further engagement. Trump told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, for example, that he is considering major tariffs against Mexico thanks to our trade deficit: “We cannot do this and we cannot sustain like this. We will not be the United States anymore. And we cannot listen to this.” He bragged repeatedly about his crowd size. He said, “I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den.” He acknowledged that he was:
...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, and the reason I say they are going to pay for the wall is because Mexico has made a fortune out of the stupidity of U.S. trade representatives…. We cannot say that anymore because 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... you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.
In his call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trump ripped Turnbull for a deal made with the Obama White House regarding acceptance of Syrian refugees, becoming more and more exacerbated to the point of stating, “As far as I am concerned that is enough Malcolm. I have had it. 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…this is crazy.”
None of this makes Trump look particularly good. But whatever you think of Trump’s behavior, these leaks are a serious problem for the administration and must be routed out as soon as humanly possible.