WASHINGTON (AP) — Leaked transcripts of presidential calls aren’t just embarrassing to Donald Trump. They could undermine faith in Washington’s ability to protect confidential conversations and intelligence, and have a chilling effect on American diplomacy.
In the latest and perhaps most egregious sign of a U.S. administration that can’t keep a lid on its private deliberations, The Washington Post this week published a written record of phone conversations between Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia. The talks took place soon after Trump’s January inauguration.
Such leaks have enraged Trump. On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to rein in government leaks that he blamed for jeopardizing American security, after being called weak on leaks by Trump. And White House adviser Kellyanne Conway raised the possibility of lie detector tests for the small number of people in the West Wing and elsewhere with access to transcripts of Trump’s phone calls.
Experts and former U.S. officials also warn the leaks could add to mistrust among international partners grappling with Trump’s unconventional approach to foreign policy, which includes at least one high-profile case of the U.S. president sharing the sensitive intelligence from a foreign ally. The cumulative effect may be to hurt Washington’s leadership in world affairs.
“The risk is that our foreign counterparts no longer believe we are capable of keeping conversations, or even their intelligence, private,” said Jon Finer, who was Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff during President Barack Obama’s second term. “This is not just embarrassing to the president. It is bad for the country, since cooperation on issues like terrorism is essential to our security.”
The transcripts broadly confirm what was reported at the time about Trump’s tough conversations with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. But they offered new detail and laid bare the U.S. president’s preoccupation about how he is viewed at home, even when speaking to the leader of a foreign government.
Trump urged Pena Nieto to stop saying his country won’t pay for the wall along the southern U.S. border, which Trump promised would happen during his maverick campaign for the presidency. The two leaders agreed to stop talking about the subject in public.
With Turnbull, Trump objected strongly to a refugee deal he inherited for the U.S. to accept asylum seekers who had been trying to…