Donald Trump was so unprepared for calls with the leaders of Russia and Turkey that he regularly threatened US national security while boasting about his achievements, CNN’s Carl Bernstein reported Monday.
Over hundreds of calls cited by anonymous sources, Bernstein reports, Trump almost never read briefing material prepared by intelligence agencies and would often take unplanned calls from foreign leaders, flabbergasting top national security advisers.
Two unnamed sources told Bernstein the regularity of the calls and Trump’s behaviour led them to believe the president was “delusional” and thought he could charm or bully other leaders into doing what he wanted. At times, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Trump at least twice a week, and there were standing orders to put the calls straight through to Trump. Sources said Trump was almost never prepared and was vulnerable to being taken advantage of.
In regular calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump “mostly talked about himself,” Bernstein reported, while “courting Putin’s admiration and approval.”
“[Trump] gives away the advantage that was hard won in the Cold War,” one official told CNN. “He’s given Russia a lifeline ― because there is no doubt that they’re a declining power. ... He’s playing with something he doesn’t understand and he’s giving them power that they would use [aggressively].”
One source described the nature of the calls between Trump and Putin as sounding like “two guys in a steam bath.”
Bernstein notes many of the accounts mirror those in former national security adviser John Bolton’s recently released book about his time in the Trump administration, although they cover a far longer period than Bolton’s tenure in the White House.
The accounts come amid ongoing concern over reports that the White House was aware in early 2019 that Russia had offered secret bounties to the Taliban to kill Americans. The Associated Press reported Monday the classified intelligence was included in Trump’s daily briefing at least once during the time. The New York Times also noted this week that Trump had been given a briefing on the matter in late February.
The White House has not yet approved any action against Russia for the reported aggression, even though the Trump administration has been presented with several options to respond.
White House officials have moved to downplay the seriousness of the intelligence, claiming Trump had not been briefed while moving to undercut whoever might have leaked the news.
“We are still investigating the alleged intelligence referenced in recent media reporting, and we will brief the president and congressional leaders at the appropriate time,” John Ratcliffe, the new director of national intelligence, told the Times. “This is the analytic process working the way it should. Unfortunately, unauthorized disclosures now jeopardise our ability to ever find out the full story with respect to these allegations.”