Why you should care
Because the president speaks to loads of global leaders by phone.
The Kremlin is concerned.
On Friday, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov mused that it was “quite unusual” for the White House to release a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We would like to hope that it wouldn’t come to that in our relations, which are already troubled by a lot of problems,” Peskov said.
The precedent-shattering release of the call between Trump and Zelensky this past week will have a lot more effects than simply sending impeachment-palooza into high gear.
Wouldn’t it be something to listen in on Trump’s calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman?
Democrats will spend the next several weeks digging into Trump’s request for a foreign power to undertake a politically helpful investigation — and what kind of incentives might have been attached. But one of the most critical lines in the history-making whistleblower complaint comes in the appendix, after the tipster describes efforts to conceal the Ukraine call: “According to White House officials I spoke with, this was ‘not the first time’ under this administration that a presidential transcript was placed into this code-word-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive — rather than national security sensitive — information.”
That’s one hell of an eyebrow raiser.
Trump’s interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin have been put under a microscope since day one, with the cloud of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election hanging over this presidency, so that’s an obvious one for the White House to stash away from prying eyes. But there are many more world leaders who could be nervously reviewing their Trump interactions. Let’s take a completely hypothetical look.
Narendra Modi touched down in Houston just a week ago for a megarally with Trump before 50,000 fans — in which India’s prime minister lavished the president with praise. Reeling in fiscally conservative suburban Indian Americans could help Trump in key states (like suddenly competitive Texas) and congressional districts in 2020.
And what could Modi get in return for his election assistance? Trump so far has had little to say about Modi’s crackdown in Kashmir. The Express Tribune newspaper in Pakistan reported last month that the U.S. would cut $440 million in aid to India’s chief enemy — though America still sends Pakistan about $4 billion a year.
Wouldn’t it be something to listen in on Trump’s calls with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman? The president seemingly cared little about the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year — even after his intelligence services tied it directly to MBS — and vowed on Twitter to do essentially whatever the Saudis wanted after a military strike against key oil-producing facilities this month.
What could be in it for Trump? The Saudis have a well-documented fondness for staying at Trump properties, as well as money to burn for all sorts of other endeavors.
Great Britain’s Boris Johnson and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu are both chummy with Trump, ideologically simpatico and control two of the world’s foremost spy agencies — which can always come in handy.
And don’t think these leaders don’t know the risks that lie in these secrets spilling out. It could well make Trump’s foreign counterparts less candid in the future, a potentially harmful outcome for diplomacy.
House Democrats have vowed to focus narrowly on the Ukraine call, as it seems to present the clearest case for impeachment so far, and to move speedily. Given the high likelihood of Democratic bumbling and overreach to Trump’s political benefit, the tack makes political sense.
But if the president happened to conduct foreign policy to suit his personal interests more than once, it’s probably worth finding out — even if it makes foreign capitals quake with fear.