The Washington Post on Thursday published transcripts of President Trump’s January phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia — and they include plenty of bizarre, surreal, and stunning moments.
The calls — which took place about a week after Trump was inaugurated — have been previously reported, but transcripts offer a deeper look into the president’s interactions with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia.
In the phone conversations, which took place on Jan. 27 and Jan. 28, Trump is deeply concerned about his public image and keeping two major promises from the campaign: to make Mexico pay for the border wall, and to be tough on taking in refugees.
During the call with Peña Nieto, Trump pressured the Mexican president to stop publicly saying that Mexico won’t pay for the wall.
“You cannot say that to the press,” Trump said during the call. “The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.”
Trump — who spoke almost twice as much as Peña Nieto (Trump spoke 3,590 words to Peña Nieto’s 1,869) — urged the Mexican president to publicly say that the two countries are negotiating the wall’s payment, which “means it will come out in the wash and that’s is OK.”
Peña Nieto offered concise, direct responses to Trump's long yarns, and focused on the necessity of a good relationship between the two countries.
The Australian prime minister spent most of the heated phone call with Trump trying to convince him to honor a deal President Obama signed in which the US agreed to resettle up to 1,250 refugees being held in Australian detention centers, in exchange for Australia taking US refugees from Central America.
The day before the call, Trump signed an executive order suspending the refugee program and barring people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US. Trump appeared to not fully know the details of the deal — which he told Turnbull “is going to kill me” — and said that “this deal will make me look terrible.”
Trump’s anger is clear — “I will say I hate it,” he told Turnbull — but the Australian prime minister played tough with him and cornered the president into saying he would honor the deal, saying at one point, "there is nothing more important in business or politics than a deal is a deal." Turnbull interrupted Trump several times and even corrected him.
The Washington Post reported in February about Trump’s angry phone call with Turnbull — something Trump denied in a tweet calling the report “fake news.”
“Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about. Very nice!” he tweeted.
But as the transcripts show, the original reporting was correct and Trump's tweet was misleading.
Here are some of the most jaw-dropping moments from the calls:
The phone call with Peña Nieto:
"I met you the one time and I studied you. You are a very hard person to study."
TRUMP: Thank you very much, Enrique. I appreciate that. I thought that was beautifully stated. And certainly, as to the relationship and friendship, I consider you a friend. I met you the one time and I studied you. You are a very hard person to study, because you are sending out messages that are important to the Mexican people
"I have been telling this to every group of 50,000 people or 25,000 people."
TRUMP: Enrique, if I can interrupt – this is not a new proposal. This is what I have been saying for a year and a half on the campaign trail. I have been telling this to every group of 50,000 people or 25,000 people – because no one got people in their rallies as big as I did. But I have been saying I wanted to tax people that treated us unfairly at the border, and Mexico is treating us unfairly.
Trump often overestimates the sizes of crowds at his events. As the Washington Post noted, the largest campaign crowd Trump spoke to was likely 30,000.
"But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to."
One of Trump's biggest campaign promises during the campaign was to build a wall along the southern border and have Mexico pay for it.
The Mexican president has long said that his country will not pay for the wall — leading to Trump demanding during the call that Peña Nieto stop telling the press that.
The only thing I will ask you though is 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. But the fact is we are both 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. They are beating us at trade and they are beating us at the border, and they are killing us with drugs.
"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."
TRUMP: 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. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out. 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. But in terms of dollars – or pesos – it is the least important thing. I know how to build very inexpensively, so it will be much lower than these numbers I am being presented with, and it will be a better wall and it will look nice. And it will do the job ...
PEÑA NIETO: This is what I suggest, Mr. President – let us stop talking about the wall. I have recognized the right of any government to protect its borders as it deems necessary and convenient. But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.
TRUMP: But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.
Trump suggested they tell the public that they will continue to negotiate over the wall's payment, "but that means it will come out in the wash and that's okay."
After the call Peña Nieto's office released a statement saying the two leaders "agreed at this point not to speak publicly about this controversial issue."
"With regard to the payment of the border wall, both Presidents acknowledged their clear and very public differences in position on this sensitive issue and agreed to resolve these differences as part of a comprehensive discussion of all aspects of the bilateral relationship," his statement read.
Trump called New Hampshire a "drug-infested den."
TRUMP: And we have the drug lords in Mexico that are knocking the hell out of our country. They are sending drugs to Chicago, Los Angeles, and to New York. Up in New Hampshire – I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den – is coming from the southern border. So we have a lot of problems with Mexico farther than the economic problem.
While New Hampshire is battling a substance abuse crisis, Sen. Maggie Hassan slammed Trump's comments as "disgusting," and Gov. Chris Sununu said "the president is wrong."
Trump once again used the phrase "bad hombres."
TRUMP: But I will say this – you have that problem too. You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with, and we are willing to help you with that big-league. But they have to be knocked out and you have not done a good job of knocking them out.
Republicans were "dancing in the streets" after Trump's win and Mexicans are doing "the reverse."
TRUMP: Mexico, honestly, through smarter leadership, more cunning leadership — and you are in that category very much so – the very smart leadership in Mexico has taken advantage of the United States. The people of the United States know this. In Ohio, they are having rallies for Trump right now because Trump has taken a hard stance on Mexico. We lost a lot of factories in Ohio and Michigan and I won these states – some of these states have not been won in 38 years by a Republican and I won them very easily. So they are dancing in the streets. You probably have the same thing where they are dancing in your streets also, but in reverse.
"It is you and I against the world, Enrique, do not forget."
After agreeing to draft a joint statement about the phone call and the wall, Trump told Peña Nieto, "It is you and I against the world, Enrique, do not forget."
TRUMP: I want you to be so popular that your people will call for a constitutional amendment in Mexico so that you can run again for another six years.
PEÑA NIETO: You are very kind, Mr. President. And really, the only thing I am interested in for both of our nations to do well — for your government, for you, and for us to truly have a relationship with friendship and a very constructive relationship, Mr. Trump.
TRUMP: You know, we should put that in the statement. Your words are so beautiful. Those are beautiful words and I do not think I can speak that beautifully, okay? It would be great to put those words at the end of the statement. Really nice though.
Now for the phone call with Turnbull:
"Who made the deal? Obama?"
Trump clearly didn't know the specifics of the refugee agreement between the US and Australia.
TURNBULL: Yes, the agreement, which the Vice President just called the Foreign Minister about less than 24 hours ago and said your Administration would be continuing, does not require you to take 2,000 people. It does not require you to take any. It requires, in return, for us to do a number of things for the United States – this is a big deal, I think we should respect deals.
TRUMP: Who made the deal? Obama?
TURNBULL: Yes, but let me describe what it is. I think it is quite consistent. I think you can comply with it. It is absolutely consistent with your Executive Order so please just hear me out. The obligation is for the United States to look and examine and take up to and only if they so choose – 1,250 to 2,000. Every individual is subject to your vetting. You can decide to take them or to not take them after vetting. You can decide to take 1,000 or 100. It is entirely up to you. The obligation is to only go through the process. So that is the first thing. Secondly, the people — none of these people are from the conflict zone. They are basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. That is the vast bulk of them. They have been under our supervision for over three years now and we know exactly everything about them.
"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."
TRUMP: Malcom [sic], 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.
Trump said Turnbull is "worse than I am" on refugees.
TRUMP: Why haven’t you let them out? Why have you not let them into your society?
TURNBULL: Okay, I will explain why. It is not because they are bad people. It is because in order to stop people smugglers, we had to deprive them of the product. So we said if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Noble [sic] Prize winning genius, we will not let you in. Because the problem with the people —
TRUMP: That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.
"Local milk people."
TRUMP: No, I do not want say that. I will just have to say that unfortunately I will have to live with what was said by Obama. I will say I hate it. Look, I spoke to Putin, Merkel, Abe of Japan, to France today, and 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.
TURNBULL: I would not be so sure about that. They are basically —
Naturally, the internet loved "local milk people."
"Does anybody know who these people are? Who are they? Where do they come from? Are they going to become the Boston bomber in five years?"
TRUMP: Does anybody know who these people are? Who are they? Where do they come from? Are they going to become the Boston bomber in five years? Or two years? Who are these people?
TURNBULL: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here.
Later, Turnbull corrected Trump, and explained that the Boston Bombers were from Russia.
TRUMP: Can Australia give me a guarantee that if we have any problems – you know that is what they said about the Boston bombers. They said they were wonderful young men.
TURNBULL: They were Russians. They were not from any of these countries.
TRUMP: They were from wherever they were.
"What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats?"
TRUMP: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.
TURNBULL: No, let me explain why. The problem with the boats it that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea. So what we say is, we will decide which people get to come to Australia who are refugees, economic migrants, businessmen, whatever. We decide. That is our decision. We are a generous multicultural immigration nation like the United States but the government decides, the people’s representatives decides. So that is the point. I am a highly transactional businessman like you and I know the deal has to work for both sides. Now Obama thought this deal worked for him and he drove a hard bargain with us – that it was agreed with Obama more than a year ago in the Oval Office, long before the election. The principles of the deal were agreed to.
"Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous."
TRUMP: As far as I am concerned that is enough Malcom [sic]. 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.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Mary Ann Georgantopoulos at email@example.com.
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