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Officials: Trump calls with world leaders are unhinged, ‘delusional’: CNN

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  • A CNN report on Monday painted a scathing portrait of President Donald Trump’s conduct on the world stage, particularly as it relates to his conversations with foreign leaders.
  • Multiple sources described the US president as someone who bullies and belittles allies while fawning over autocratic leaders.
  • Sources told CNN Trump behaves in a “near-sadistic” fashion with female leaders; that he talks to Russian President Vladimir Putin as if they’re “two guys in a steam bath”; and that Turkey’s president “took him to the cleaners.”
  • Trump’s behavior was so unusual and erratic that it convinced several senior administration officials that the president was “delusional,” according to the report.
  • In some cases, the report said, Trump’s actions led White House officials to conclude that the president himself posed a national security threat.
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Turns-of-phrase like “baked in the cake” and “shocking, but unsurprising” have become cliché in the Trump era, but a Monday CNN report presented a comprehensive overview of President Donald Trump’s conduct on the world stage, particularly as it relates to his conversations with foreign leaders.

CNN’s Carl Bernstein spoke to multiple sources over a four-month period, all of whom were anonymously cited in the story but who largely confirmed details that have been previously reported by other outlets and testified to in public hearings.

Overall, these sources painted a scathing portrait of a US president who bullies and belittles allies while fawning over autocratic leaders. The White House did not respond to a request for comment from CNN.

  • One person familiar with Trump’s conversations with leaders from Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia, and western Europe described the calls to CNN as “abominations.”
  • A source told the outlet that Trump subjected French President Emmanuel Macron to lectures and verbal “whippings” on issues like trade, immigration, and NATO.
  • Trump behaved in a “near-sadistic” manner toward German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British Prime Minister Theresa May, according to one source. Several other sources confirmed the detail to CNN as well.
  • Some of the harshest depictions of Trump’s lack of preparedness on critical issues stem from his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    • During their phone calls, according to CNN and previous media reports, Trump often boasts about himself and builds up his business acumen, while repeatedly praising the Russian leader and seeking his approval.
    • The US president “gives away the advantage that was hard won in the Cold War” and has “given Russia a lifeline,” a high-level administration official told CNN.
    • Another administration official told CNN that Putin “just outplays” Trump. Another source said that sometimes their conversations resemble that of “two guys in a steam bath.”
  • One source told CNN that Trump “gave away the store” when he decided to pull US troops from Syria, handing a massive victory to both Turkey and Russia.
  • More broadly, Trump has little knowledge of issues related to Syria and the Middle East and was unprepared to discuss critical policy issues with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
    • “Erdogan took him to the cleaners,” one source told CNN.

trump erdogan turkey

US President Donald Trump meets with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey during the UN General Assembly in New York, US, September 21, 2017.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


Taken together, Trump’s actions convinced senior administration officials — like former national security advisers John Bolton and H.R. McMaster, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former chief of staff John Kelly, and multiple intelligence officials — that Trump was “delusional,” according to CNN.

Indeed, Trump’s controversial approach to handling phone calls on issues of national security with foreign leaders has been well documented in both media reports and congressional testimony. Overall, as CNN reported, Trump’s behavior led many officials to believe that the president himself posed a national security threat to the US.

  • The most high-profile example is a July 25, 2019 phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to launch bogus investigations targeting his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, ahead of the 2020 election. That phone call and subsequent attempts to cover up its contents led to Trump’s impeachment, during which Democratic lawmakers accused the president of compromising national security for his personal political interests.
  • Trump “instinctively” decided to pull US troops from northern Syria — a monumental move that had far-reaching consequences in the region — after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • In a March 2018 phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump congratulated the Russian leader on his victory in a rigged election even after US national security officials warned him, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” in briefing materials before the call.
  • Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders were so concerning that the White House tried to conceal transcripts of the conversations, especially those with Mohammed bin Salman and Putin, as previously reported.
  • White House staffers were “genuinely horrified” by Trump’s phone calls with Putin and Syria’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • The president at one point weighed barring all officials from listening to his calls with foreign leaders, which intelligence veterans said would have been catastrophic for US national security.
  • White House staffers reportedly need to “babysit” during the president’s phone calls with foreign leaders because he is often unprepared and goes off-script.
  • John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, used to mute the line during Trump’s calls with foreign leaders to urge the president not to discuss sensitive topics.
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