Legendary Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein has a scoop of sorts. Using authoritative accounts of the contents of hundreds of Donald Trump’s highly classified phone calls with various world leaders he has shown that the US president routinely bowed before authoritarian “strong men”, berated the women and bad-mouthed his predecessors in the White House.
This is not Trumpgate. It’s no revelation, just confirmation of Trump’s proclivities and behaviour in various forums, both public and private.
By all accounts, everyone is rivetted but no one is particularly surprised.
Bernstein offers 4,000 words on Trump’s private phone calls with presidents and prime ministers around the world. Here are some of the juicier bits:
Trump told German chancellor Angela Merkel she was “stupid”.
He flustered former UK prime minister Theresa May by informing her she was “spineless” and “a fool”.
He told Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan that former US presidents, especially Barack Obama, were “imbeciles” and “weaklings”. Presidents George W Bush and Obama “didn’t know BS,” Trump said.
With Putin, Trump talked about himself in boastful terms, touting his “unprecedented” success in building the US economy, declaring that he is smarter and “stronger” than Obama and praising his experience running the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow.
Bernstein says the “full detailed picture” drawn by his sources confirm “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 he claims that the calls described to him are more important by virtue of covering a much longer period than Bolton’s 17-month tenure as Trump’s National Security Adviser. These calls, Bernstein says, “are much more comprehensive — and seemingly more damning — in their sweep.”
It is damning that a US president is heard talking in fawning tones to authoritarian strongmen, abusing women leaders, speaking to foreign counterparts without knowledge or preparation and disloyally dissing former inhabitants of the White House.
But some might argue that’s the very essence of Trump’s unique conversational style on the world stage and Bernstein has uncovered something that was hidden in plain sight.