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What Turnbull And Trump Told The Media About Their Infamous Phone Call VS What Actually Happened

Turnbull called the phone call "constructive", while Trump dismissed reporting about the interaction as "a bit of fake news".

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On January 30, Turnbull described the January 28 phone call as "constructive":

... I can confirm that I had a constructive call with president Trump yesterday, in which I congratulated him and vice-president Pence on their inauguration...

In the transcript, Trump accused Turnbull of making him look "awfully bad" and a "dope", adding that it was his worst phone call of the day:

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.


On February 1, Turnbull told reporters at Canberra's National Press Club that Trump gave him an "assurance" that the US would honour the deal:

As you've heard from the president's own spokesman this morning, the Trump Administration has committed to progress with the arrangements to honour the deal, if you like, that was entered into with the Obama Administration, and that was the assurance the president gave me when we spoke on the weekend.

In the phone call transcript, Turnbull cajoles Trump to stick with the deal and blame it on Obama:

TRUMP: I do not know where they find these people to make these stupid deals. I am going to get killed on this thing.

TURNBULL: You will not.

TRUMP: Yes, I will be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people. This is a killer.

TURNBULL: You can certainly say that it was not a deal that you would have done, but you are going to stick with it.

On February 1, ABC's 7.30 host Stan Grant asked Turnbull, "How can you be sure that they are going to take any significant numbers?"

GRANT: Extreme vetting, as we know now, and that’s been heightened. And that raises the question — when you are dealing with people predominantly from Iran, Iraq, countries that are on the banned list — how can you be sure that they are going to take any significant numbers?

TURNBULL: Stan, the commitment is to undertake, to process these people for the purpose of being accepted as refugees within the United States. They will be given very rigorous vetting as indeed we give people who apply for refugee status in Australia rigorous vetting.

In the transcript, Trump comes around and surmises that the US can vet the refugees and not take any.

Turnbull then says, "That is the point I have been trying to make":

TRUMP: ... We are going to allow 2,000 prisoners to come into our country and it is within the realm of my Executive Order? If that is the case my Executive Order does not mean anything Malcolm. I look like a dope. The only way that I can do this is to say that my predecessor made a deal and I have no option then to honor the deal. I hate having to do it, but I am still going to vet them very closely. Suppose I vet them closely and I do not take any?

TURNBULL: That is the point I have been trying to make.

TRUMP: How does that help you?

TURNBULL: Well, we assume that we will act in good faith.

In the same interview, Grant asked about a report that Trump was still considering the deal.

Turnbull replied, "We have to raise the standards of journalism a little bit here":

GRANT: Are you taken by surprise by this apparent shift that now he is still considering it? And that's coming from another White House spokesperson.

TURNBULL: Anonymous and no-one has seen them. Look, Stan, we have to raise the standards of journalism a little bit here. We have a conversation between the prime minister and the president. In which the president gives an assurance. We have a confirmation of that assurance given by the prime minister's spokesman in the White House briefing room. That's what I am basing my remarks on, and I think that's more reliable than some of the reports we've seen in the press.

In the phone call transcript, Trump and Turnbull have an exchange that suggests the president doesn't really understand the terms of the deal:

TRUMP: ... why is this so important? 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. 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. It makes me look so bad and I have only been here a week.

TURNBULL: With great respect, that is not right – it is not 2,000.

TRUMP: Well, it is close. I have also heard like 5,000 as well.

TURNBULL: The given number in the agreement is 1,250 and it is entirely a matter of your vetting. I think that what you could say is that the Australian government is consistent with the principles set out in the Executive Order.

On May 5, during their face-to-face meeting in New York, Trump said the original Washington Post report revealing that the two men clashed on the call was an "exaggeration", adding that it was "fake news".

Turnbull agreed:

TRUMP: We had a very, very good call. It was a little bit of fake news — that’s the expression.

TURNBULL: Exactly right.

In the transcript, Trump called the refugee deal "disgusting" and wouldn't talk with Turnbull when the Australian prime minister sought to discuss Syria and North Korea.

TURNBULL: Do you want to talk about Syria and DPRK?

TRUMP: [inaudible] this is crazy.

TURNBULL: Thank you for your commitment. It is very important to us.

TRUMP: It is important to you and it is embarrassing to me. It is an embarrassment to me, but at least I got you off the hook. So you put me back on the hook.

In September 2016 Turnbull held a doorstop in New York, saying the original US-Australia refugee deal was not contingent on a reported "people swap", with Australia taking Costa Rican refugees from the United States:

JOURNALIST: Prime minister the Central American deal, can you advise us, does that have any material impact at all on the government’s ability to find homes for the people on Nauru and Manus?

TURNBULL: It’s not linked to any other resettlement discussions.

In the transcript, Turnbull says if Trump vets the refugees, Australia will "hold up our end of the bargain" by taking 31 of something:

TURNBULL: I say this to you sincerely that it is in the mutual interest of the United States to say, 'yes, we can conform with that deal — we are not obliged to take anybody we do not want, we will go through extreme vetting' and that way you are seen to show the respect that a trusted ally wants and deserves. We will then hold up our end of the bargain by taking in our country 31 [inaudible] that you need to move on from.

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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