Transcripts of President Donald Trump’s conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia in January offer new details on how the president parried with the leaders over the politics of the border wall and refugee policy — with random asides on such subjects as drug abuse in New Hampshire.
The president’s exchanges with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull just a week after the inauguration were widely reported upon at the time. But transcripts published Friday by The Washington Post offer new detail on the new president’s blunt exchanges with the U.S. allies. The White House said Thursday that the release of the transcripts is a disservice to Trump.
“I’m not going to comment on leaked calls,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said. “It’s a national security matter when phone call transcripts are being leaked out. It prevents the president from being able to do what he does best, negotiate with foreign leaders.”
In his conversation with Pena Nieto, Trump urges the Mexican president to stop saying his country won’t pay for the wall along the southern U.S. border, and the two agree to stop talking about the subject in public.
In the Turnbull conversation, the two leaders discuss a 2016 refugee deal between their nations, under which the Obama administration agreed to accept asylum seekers who had been trying to get to Australia. Turnbull insists to Trump that the deal is still on. Trump complains that the deal makes him look bad and says he had a more pleasant conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Highlights from the conversations:
POLITICS OF THE WALL
Trump acknowledges that talk about building a wall at the US-Mexico border is more about image management than economic policy.
“Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about,” he said. “But in terms of dollars – or pesos – it is the least important thing.”
He acknowledges both leaders are “in a little bit of a political bind” because each has vowed not to pay for the wall.
“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,” he adds.
Pena Nieto tells Trump: “Let us stop talking about the wall. … But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE SLAM
Trump says he won New Hampshire “because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den.”
Trump won the GOP primary in New Hampshire. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the state in the general election.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday bristled at Trump’s description.
“The president is wrong,” Sununu said in a statement, adding that overdoses and drug-related deaths are declining in key parts of the state. “It’s disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer.”
THE REFUGEE DEAL_BAD OPTICS
In the Turnbull call, Trump complains about being saddled with an Obama administration agreement to help resettle some refugees who attempted to reach Australia by boat, particularly as Trump is rolling out his travel ban.
“Boy, that will make us look awfully bad,” Trump says. “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 counters that “this is a big deal, and I think we should respect deals.”
Trump returns: “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, and I agree I can vet them, but that puts me in a bad position.”
DEALMAKING AND DIPOLOMACY
Turnbull, in pressing for the refugee deal to be honored, repeatedly appeals to Trump’s background as a dealmaker.
“There is nothing more important in business or politics than a deal is a deal,” he says.
Trump tells the Australian leader: “You have brokered many a stupid deal in business, and I respect you, but I guarantee that you broke many a stupid deal. This is a stupid deal. This deal will make me look terrible…I am going to get killed on this thing. ”
He adds: “I will be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people. This is a killer.”
Turnbull offers some advice: “You can certainly say that it was not a deal that you would have done, but you are going to stick with it.”
Trump is blunt in sizing up his exchange with Turnbull, telling him: “This was my most unpleasant call, because I will be honest with you. 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.”
He adds: “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.”
Turnbull tries a more diplomatic tack, telling the president: “Thank you for your commitment. It is very important to us.”
He pledges to “be there again and again” for the U.S. The call ends with them thanking each other.
Despite the heated exchange, Trump later tweets: “Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about. Very nice!”
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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this story from Air Force One.
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