U.S. President Donald Trump’s tumultuous relationship with world leaders has been no secret — but if the Trump administration has its apparent way, it might be. After repeated contentious communications with world leaders and a glaring lapse in official White House readouts of recent phone conversations between Trump and his counterparts, CNN is now reporting that the Trump administration is ending the practice of producing its own external releases about presidential calls.
CNN based its reporting on the testimony of two unnamed sources, noting that a White House spokesperson declined to comment and that it is not immediately clear if the end of public readouts is meant to be temporary or last as long as Trump is in office.
There are multiple indicators pointing towards the new reporting from CNN. On a practical level, Trump has spoken on the phone with at least Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the last two weeks, but the White House has published a readout covering neither call.
Trump has, in the past, been reported to have been angered at the leaks to the press of details of phone conversations with world leaders. For instance, earlier this year, he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone and congratulated him on winning a sham election.
We know that because a source inside his administration told the press, which continued on with motivating him towards clamping down on who was in on his phone calls. CNN reports that after details of heated phone conversations last August with the leaders of Australia and Mexico were shared with the press, Trump began “insisting that fewer people be in the room during the calls going forward.”
He has more to hide than having a verbal spat with a leader during a one-off telephone call. Trump met recently with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland and has kept the details of their discussion, attended only by translators, under wraps. Nothing substantive could have been agreed to, while something incredibly substantive could have been discussed. Neither the public nor officials in the administration like Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats immediately knew.
The change, then, away from providing official public summaries of presidential calls with world leaders comes from an administration already bent on carrying on in secret and without scrutiny.
Failing to provide public summaries of presidential phone calls with other world leaders gives up both transparency and the White House’s place in shaping the global narrative, former Obama State Department official Tony Blinken noted to CNN.
Trump already leaves the shaping of the global narrative to leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, deferring to the Kremlin’s dismissal of the Russian election meddling scandal time and time again and ignoring other Kremlin atrocities — like the seizure of the Crimean peninsula — as well.
At least some officials inside the administration will still have a grasp of the president’s phone conversations, with internal readouts still being provided, according to CNN. Still, in its presentation to the world, the Trump administration keeps digging into its self-obsessed position further and further.
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