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How Trump Has Handled Calls To Foreign Leaders Throughout His Presidency

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's been a week of momentous developments - the speaker of the House announcing an impeachment inquiry.

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NANCY PELOSI: The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The acting director of national intelligence giving high stakes testimony on Capitol Hill.

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JOSEPH MAGUIRE: I believe that the whistleblower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout.

CORNISH: The president declaring that he did nothing wrong.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's all a hoax, folks. It's all a big hoax.

SHAPIRO: At the heart of all of this, a whistleblower complaint about a phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. A summary of that phone call shows the president asking Zelenskiy to look for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. This is not the first time the president's communications with other leaders have raised eyebrows. Susan Glasser of The New Yorker is here to talk more about that. Good to have you back in the studio.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: This phone call with Ukraine's leader is the latest example. But as soon as President Trump took office, he was having conversations with foreign leaders that made news, and not necessarily in a good way. Take us back.

GLASSER: Well, that's right. It's hard to put your mind back in January of 2017. But, you know, how can we forget, on the other hand, the memorable phone calls that were leaked of President Trump talking to Australia's then-prime minister, getting so furious, according to the reports and the readout of the phone call, that he essentially said, I don't want to have anything to do with this and hung up...

SHAPIRO: He, like, slammed the phone down.

GLASSER: ...Hung up the phone on the prime minister in one of his first forays into international diplomacy.

SHAPIRO: One of the first things a president does when they take office is have a lot of phone calls with a lot of world leaders. So these were front-loaded. There was also one with Mexico's president that made news.

GLASSER: Well, that's right. In fact, it led to the cancellation of a trip as a result. Trump said throughout his campaign that Mexico was going to pay for the wall. Mexico called up and said, congratulations. You're president now, but we're not going to pay for the wall. And that was their first interaction. It did not go well.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about a meeting between President Trump and Russia's foreign minister and ambassador because Russia has been so central to so much of the criticism about President Trump. We're now in May of 2017. President Trump met with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office and appeared to reveal classified information.

GLASSER: That's right. To this day, there's allegations that President Trump essentially might have compromised what appears to be intelligence from Israel regarding Syria in his conversation with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister and the then-ambassador to the United States who, of course, was right in the middle of the entire - what would come to become the Mueller investigation. That is also the conversation in which the president actually called James Comey, the FBI director he had just fired, a nutjob.

SHAPIRO: So that was with Russia's foreign minister and the ambassador. Then Trump meets with Vladimir Putin himself in Helsinki. And even some of Trump's allies say it is a disaster.

GLASSER: Yeah. I was in Helsinki for the meeting in the summer of 2018. And it was one of those jaw-dropping moments, certainly for someone who's followed Russia. Trump had insisted upon a personal, one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin first. And by the way, to this day, we actually do not have a real readout or record of what was said. And then there was this extraordinary press conference, where the two leaders come onto the stage, and Trump appears to be almost submissive to Vladimir Putin. He accepts the president of Russia's word over that of his own intelligence agencies in his own government when it comes to the election interference. And again and again, Putin seems to even be making excuses for Trump.

The performance was so extraordinary. And I'm just struck by the fact that even now to this day, we don't have a real account of what actually happened in Helsinki. The Russians claimed, in fact, that Donald Trump had made various commitments and concessions to Putin. And no one really knows whether he did or not.

SHAPIRO: Trump's supporters will say all of the evidence you've laid out shows what a free-wheeling, rule-breaking, mold-shattering kind of president he is. Is there maybe some mistake in trying to hold him to the standards we apply to other presidents because he's never been anything like other presidents?

GLASSER: Right. Well, rules are rules, and laws are laws. And I think, you know, that's one of the things that Congress will have to determine. But there are many, many credible legal experts who have come forward to say that when you look at what the textbook definition of a quid pro quo is or of somebody who is extorting somebody for a thing of value, there's an awful lot of evidence here in this case in particular. Congress will now be looking into the question of why was hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. security assistance held up eight days before this phone call. Many people have looked at this fact set and suggested that President Trump, who personally ordered, it appears, the holdup of that security assistance, may have wanted to use that as leverage in his conversation with the leader of Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, thank you.

GLASSER: Well, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.