Fact check: Trump and his fake phone calls
Washington — In President Donald Trump’s universe, the past week was distinguished by two phone calls that happened and two that didn’t.
Leaked transcripts of Trump’s phone conversations from the early days of his presidency reveal that he did not consider his chat with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to be “very civil,” as he had insisted in a tweet after the Jan. 28 call.
Trump actually told Turnbull the conversation was “ridiculous” before he president ended it early, the transcript shows.
Transcripts of his calls with Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto were reported by The Washington Post on Thursday. The Associated Press had reported on a leaked excerpt of the Pena Nieto call on Feb. 2.
The transcripts show that reports of tensions that Trump denounced at the time as “fake news” were largely accurate. There were minor discrepancies in wording between the excerpt reported at the time and the transcript published Thursday — “bad hombres” in the excerpt, for example, and “tough hombres” in the full version.
Meantime, Trump over this past week summarized the contents of recent phone conversations with Pena Nieto and a Boy Scout leader. Neither call took place.
A look at the real and phantom phone calls:
The call with Australia’s prime minister
TRUMP: “Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about. Very nice!” — Feb. 3 tweet.
THE FACTS: Civility quickly wore thin in that Jan. 28 phone call. Trump fumed about having to live up to a deal made by President Barack Obama about accepting a group of refugees held by Australia.
“I do not know where they find these people to make these stupid deals,” he said. “I am going to get killed on this thing.”
“You will not,” Turnbull interjected.
“Yes,” said Trump, “I will be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people. This is a killer.”
He soon grew fed up.
“That is enough, Malcolm,” he said. “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.”
Trump went on: “It is an embarrassment to me, but at least I got you off the hook. So you put me back on the hook.”
Turnbull assured him “You can count on me,” presumably as an ally, and the call ended with terse mutual thanks.
The real call with Mexico’s president
TRUMP: “Friendly.” — His description at a news conference of his Jan. 27 call with Pena Nieto.
THE FACTS: That’s a defensible characterization, judging from the transcript.
Both men were frank and forceful about their differences, but not personally hostile. Trump confided in the Mexican president that he’d put them both in a “bind” with his campaign pledge to make Mexico pay for the border wall. He said he’d stopped repeating that promise, and he wanted Pena Nieto to stop saying that Mexico would not pay.
“You and I will always be friends,” Trump said at one point. “Do not worry.”
Yet he was blunt about wanting to rein in the trade deficit, to stop losing jobs to Mexico and to respond with tariffs if needed: “We cannot do this and we cannot sustain like this,” he said. “We will not be the United States anymore.”
It was a substantive and at times nuanced discussion. Trump did not hold his own country blameless, saying, “We are living off the success of the past — off the fat of the past — and we cannot continue to do this.”
The call from the Boy Scouts
TRUMP: “I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful.” — Interview with The Wall Street Journal. Politico published the transcript.
THE FACTS: He got no such call. His provocative and political speech to the boys at their national jamboree later prompted Boy Scouts President Randall Stephenson and Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh to apologize to members of the scouting community who were offended by Trump’s rhetoric.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the praise Trump described was conveyed in person, not on the phone.
The fake call from Mexico’s president
TRUMP: “Even the president of Mexico called me. They said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they’re not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.” — statement on Monday.
THE FACTS: Again, no call. Again, Sanders said this was from a face-to-face conversation. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said Pena Nieto remarked to Trump during a meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Germany that deportations of Mexicans from the United States had fallen 31 percent between January and June, compared with 2016. Pena Nieto also said 47 percent fewer Central American migrants had entered Mexico in that period.
How is that a compliment for Trump? Border enforcement and his tough talk on illegal immigration may be dissuading some people in Central America from entering Mexico and trying to sneak into the U.S.