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From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials

June 29, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

US President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin from the Oval Office of the White House on January 28, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mandel Ngan / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America's principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials -- including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff -- that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.

(CNN)In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America's principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials -- including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff -- that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.

The calls caused former top Trump deputies -- including national security advisers H. R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials -- to conclude that the President was often "delusional," as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders.

CNN's sources said there were calls between Putin and Trump about Trump's desire to end the American military presence in Afghanistan but they mentioned no discussion of the supposed Taliban bounties.

By far the greatest number of Trump's telephone discussions with an individual head of state were with Erdogan, who sometimes phoned the White House at least twice a week and was put through directly to the President on standing orders from Trump, according to the sources.

The full, detailed picture drawn by CNN's sources of Trump's phone calls with foreign leaders is consistent with the basic tenor and some substantive elements of a limited number of calls described by former national security adviser John Bolton in his book, "The Room Where It Happened. " But the calls described to CNN cover a far longer period than Bolton's tenure, are much more comprehensive — and seemingly more damning -- in their sweep.

In addition to Merkel and May, the sources said, Trump regularly bullied and disparaged other leaders of the western alliance during his phone conversations -- including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- in the same hostile and aggressive way he discussed the coronavirus with some of America's governors.

Next to Erdogan, no foreign leader initiated more calls with Trump than Macron, the sources said, with the French President often trying to convince Trump to change course on environmental and security policy matters -- including climate change and US withdrawal from the Iranian multilateral nuclear accord.

The calls with Putin and Erdogan were particularly egregious in terms of Trump almost never being prepared substantively and thus leaving him susceptible to being taken advantage of in various ways, according to the sources -- in part because those conversations (as with most heads of state), were almost certainly recorded by the security services and other agencies of their countries.

While Putin "destabilizes the West," said this source, the President of the United States "sits there and thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman and tough guy that Putin will respect him. " (At times, the Putin-Trump conversations sounded like "two guys in a steam bath," a source added. )

In numerous calls with Putin that were described to CNN, Trump left top national security aides and his chiefs of staff flabbergasted, less because of specific concessions he made than because of his manner -- inordinately solicitous of Putin's admiration and seemingly seeking his approval -- while usually ignoring substantive policy expertise and important matters on the standing bilateral agenda, including human rights; and an arms control agreement, which never got dealt with in a way that advanced shared Russian and American goals that both Putin and Trump professed to favor, CNN's sources said.

In separate interviews, two high-level administration officials familiar with most of the Trump-Putin calls said the President naively elevated Russia -- a second-rate totalitarian state with less than 4% of the world's GDP -- and its authoritarian leader almost to parity with the United States and its President by undermining the tougher, more realistic view of Russia expressed by the US Congress, American intelligence agencies and the long-standing post-war policy consensus of the US and its European allies.

The frequency of the calls with Erdogan -- in which the Turkish president continually pressed Trump for policy concessions and other favors -- was especially worrisome to McMaster, Bolton and Kelly, the more so because of the ease with which Erdogan bypassed normal National Security Council protocols and procedures to reach the President, said two of the sources.

The sources said that deleterious US policy decisions on Syria -- including the President's directive to pull US forces out of the country, which then allowed Turkey to attack Kurds who had helped the US fight ISIS and weakened NATO's role in the conflict -- were directly linked to Erdogan's ability to get his way with Trump on the phone calls.

According to one high-level source, there are also existing summaries and conversation-readouts of the President's discussions with Erdogan that might reinforce Bolton's allegations against Trump in the so-called "Halkbank case," involving a major Turkish bank with suspected ties to Erdogan and his family.

That source said the matter was raised in more than one telephone conversation between Erdogan and Trump.

Unlike Bolton, CNN's sources did not assert or suggest specifically that Trump's calls with Erdogan might have been grounds for impeachment because of possible evidence of unlawful conduct by the President.

In their interviews, the sources took great care not to disclose specific national security information and classified details -- but rather described the broad contents of many of the calls, and the overall tenor and methodology of Trump's approach to his telephone discussions with foreign leaders.

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