'What the hell were you thinking': Trump berated White House staff for not telling him Putin was trying to call him

Trump Putin

  • President Donald Trump berated former national security adviser Michael Flynn and other senior staff members for holding off on arranging a phone call between him and the Russian president, according to a new book.
  • "Are you kidding me? Vladimir Putin tried to call me, and you didn't put him through," Trump said in the middle of a meeting with the UK's prime minister - his first White House meeting with a foreign leader.
  • "Well, sir, you know, you have a lot of calls coming in, and we're trying to manage who you talk to," Flynn responded.
  • "What kind of bull---- is this? How is it possible that Putin calls me and you don't put the call through? I don't know what you guys are doing," Trump said later to his senior staff, before storming out of the room.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump berated former national security adviser Michael Flynn and other senior staff members for holding off on arranging a phone call between him and the Russian president soon after taking office, according to a new book on the Trump administration's contentious relationship with the Pentagon.

In "Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos," national security reporter Peter Bergen recounts details of the tenuous conversation between the US president and his staffers, one of many intimate talks that were sourced from dozens of interviews with current and former White House officials and military officers.
Advertisement
On January 27, 2017, weeks after winning the presidency, Trump held his first official visit from a foreign leader at the White House with British Prime Minister Theresa May. During lunch, May asked Trump if he had talked to Putin, according to Bergen.

"No, I haven't," Trump replied.

Flynn, a former three-star US Army general, was nearby and leaned in to Trump: "Sir, we're arranging that call now. President Putin called several days ago, but we haven't been able to get it on your calendar yet."
Advertisement

Trump, who was upset by the response, lambasted Flynn.

"Are you kidding me? Vladimir Putin tried to call me, and you didn't put him through," Trump said. "Well, sir, you know, you have a lot of calls coming in, and we're trying to manage who you talk to," Flynn responded.
Advertisement

Trump called Putin "the only man on earth who can destroy us" and later questioned his staff's decision to withhold the phone call.

"What kind of bull---- is this? How is it possible that Putin calls me and you don't put the call through? I don't know what you guys are doing," Trump privately said to his senior staff.

Administrations typically prepare for high-level discussions between the US president and foreign leaders, phone calls that are usually listened to by key staff members. The Trump administration has restricted access to more of these conversations and subsequent transcripts after his July 25 call to Ukraine's president prompted a scandal that led to his impeachment.
Advertisement

"Nobody is allowed on the calls," a White House official said to CNN in December. "The barn door officially closed after the horse escaped."

Trump talks to Putin by phone

According to White House records, Trump conducted a "congratulatory" one-hour phone call with Putin the next day. The call, which included topics ranging from the fight against the Islamic State to the conflict in Syria, was described by the White House as "positive" and "a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia."
Advertisement
The call between the two leaders was not the first of its kind. On November 14, 2016, Putin and President-elect Trump spoke over the phone to "establish a partner-like dialogue with the new administration," the Kremlin said in an official statement at the time.

Putin and Trump's relationship has been intensely scrutinized by Congress, following the Russia investigation led by the special counsel Robert Mueller. In turn, the Trump administration has sought to obfuscate details on his interactions with Putin, according to previous media reports. Current and former US officials claimed that during the G-20 meeting in 2017, Trump attempted to take his interpreter's notes and told his linguist not to discuss his conversation with other staff.

In 2018, Trump ignored his staff's recommendation, "DO NOT CONGRATULATE," and praised the Russian president on his election victory, which came amid voting irregularities and harassment of election monitors.
Advertisement

The two presidents spoke again on Sunday. According to an official statement from Russia, Putin thanked Trump for the US's notice about a potential terrorist plot against St. Petersburg on New Year's Eve.

Trump later confirmed Russia's statement by tweeting about the call: "President Putin of Russia called to thank me and the US for informing them of a planned terrorist attack in the very beautiful city of Saint Petersburg." "They were able to quickly apprehend the suspects, with many lives being saved," Trump added. "Great & important coordination!"
Advertisement
{{}}