Presidential calls can be an opportunity to advance US national security interests. A failure to communicate these interests with foreign leaders — especially hostile ones — can increase the chances for misunderstanding and miscalculation.
That’s why painstaking preparation usually goes into each presidential call, and the subsequent call readout. The national security team wants to make sure the president uses every second of phone time to advance US interests. Call sheets often include proactive issues for the president to raise, a summary of topics a foreign counterpart will likely mention that the president should watch out for, and a clear sense of what the ultimate goal of the contact is.
Undermining US national security is not typically on the president’s to-do list for such calls.
And yet, on Friday, President Trump spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and failed to warn Putin about meddling in the upcoming 2020 elections — all before he publicly summarized the conversation with false and divisive language.
Contradicting the US intelligence community on Russian election interference by calling the Mueller investigation a “Russian hoax” was just the tip of the iceberg. Trump also said Russia isn’t “looking at all to get involved” in Venezuela, just two days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Russian foreign minister to warn that Putin’s interference there was “destabilizing.”
This is just the latest example that shows Trump relies on a shadow cabinet of US enemies to advise him rather than his own national security council.
Damage control following the President’s hour-long call with Putin and preventive measures for the future are necessary. In the absence of being able to rescind the President’s phone privileges entirely, limiting his phone time is the safest thing his team can do at this juncture.