Trump Wants World Leaders to Call Him on His CellphonePhoto by Drew Angerer/Getty Politics News Donald Trump
Last night was one of the crazier news cycles in a month bursting with crazy news cycles. First, we learned a massive bomb was detonated in Kabul, killing over 80 people and injuring hundreds more. Then, on the opposite end of the news spectrum, Trump cryptically tweeted about “covefefe,” which has gone viral. So it goes.
But buried beneath all of this breaking news—both serious and moronic—was the revelation that Trump has been handing out his personal cellphone number to world leaders and asking them to call him up whenever they need his love. Trump has reportedly already reached out to Canada and Mexico, as well as the French president—and kickass handshaking champion—Emmanuel Macron. Only Canada’s Trudeau has bothered to take up Trump’s offer to have a late-night conversation about what girls in math class they think are cute. Or who to nuke, or whatever.
In a world where virtually every human interaction is filtered through smartphones, this may not seem like a huge deal on its surface. But, then again, most of us aren’t the president of the United States, unfortunately.
The issue here is that we don’t know what Trump talks about—or intends to talk about—with these various world leaders because there is no record of these conversations happening. After Nixon’s Watergate scandal—there’s that guy again, why does he keep coming up?—The Presidential Records Act of 1981 was passed, requiring the president to preserve any records related to the office. This typically includes an informal transcript of any phone conversations, though many admit this is a “blind spot” that can be avoided if a president uses a personal cellphone. The act was amended in 2014 to include personal emails.
Virtually all calls to foreign leaders are done on a secure landline. These are much harder to hack and eavesdrop on. Listening in on foreign cellphone conversations is a widespread and common tactic, even between allies. When Edward Snowden dumped all of his information back in 2013, one of the reveals was that the U.S. had been listening in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone—as if she needed another reason to hate America.
There’s no reason to expect that as soon as Trump scribbled out his phone number on a dirty napkin for a foreign leader, that same napkin wasn’t immediately transferred to the country’s intelligence agencies. If they have the number, just about any major country could find a way to listen in on whatever inane conversations the president tends to have. In case you’re wondering, this is probably a bad thing.
And beyond all the typical security concerns associated with using his personal cellphone, most foreign calls for the president tend to be highly orchestrated affairs. The president is usually briefed ahead of time and given talking points they should hit. This makes sense because it is imperative that conversations don’t inadvertently reveal too much or, say, accidentally insult the foreign leader—so basically to stop guys like Trump from Trumping all over world politicians.
Obviously, not only is it terribly unwise—and toeing the line of legality—for the president to conduct these sorts of off-the-cuff conversations with world leaders, it’s massively hypocritical. A cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign centered on condemning Hilary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Trump’s rationale was that Clinton couldn’t be trusted with a high-security clearance if she’s so negligent with her personal security. Obviously, Trump has already proved several times that he himself isn’t exactly a locked vault when it comes to state secrets. This is especially concerning given how much more he’s been paying attention in intelligence briefings recently. There’s more he can let slip.
Given that Trump and his administration are also facing allegations that they illegally attempted to establish back channel communications with Russia, this reveal is just one more damning piece of circumstantial evidence that further paints the administration in a poor light. It appears only a matter of time before it’s revealed that Trump routinely loses classified intelligence during a weekly online poker game with Putin. Because at this point, just about anything sounds reasonable.