Trump’s Calls With World Leaders Are Freewheeling, but Few Have Access

Mr. Trump, according to the former officials, does not often read “the package,” which includes basic details like the last time the two leaders spoke, the status of their relationship, the purpose of the call, what the United States has asked for from that leader and what has been given. He also often waves his hand in a “speed it up” motion during the in-person briefing he receives from his national security adviser before those calls.

Even when those notes are boiled down to bullet points on note cards, Mr. Trump does not always heed them. In a March 2018 phone call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Trump congratulated him on his re-election despite the suspect nature of the vote and the violence that preceded it. A note in his briefing book, written in all capital letters, stated, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”

Mr. Trump and some of his early advisers chafed against the rigid system, insisting that the distribution of transcripts was aimed at giving the national security apparatus an avenue to control a freewheeling president. They argued for doing away with transcripts all together, in favor of summary notes about the call.

But Mr. Trump never succeeded in wresting the process away from the National Security Council.

The council’s guidance for Mr. Trump is to keep his calls brief, in part because the consecutive translation employed makes even short calls an imposition on the president’s day. Nonetheless, Mr. Trump sometimes spends more than 30 minutes on rambling phone conversations.

In the early days of the administration, many of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers would involve themselves in calls with foreign leaders, even when it was not clear they needed to be involved. One now-famous image from the early days of the administration showed Mr. Trump, sitting behind the Resolute Desk on the phone with Mr. Putin. Also in the photo, circling the desk and listening in were Vice President Mike Pence; Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s press secretary at the time; Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s adviser at the time; Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff at the time; and Mr. Flynn.

But those days have passed, officials said, at Mr. Trump’s request. He now favors the privacy of his residence.

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