On Friday, President Trump told reporters about his phone call earlier in the day with Vladimir Putin, claiming that the two discussed the Mueller report, which he referred to as the “Russian hoax.” Noticeably absent from the exchange was any warning from the American president to his Russian counterpart regarding interference in the 2020 election. Trump, who apparently can determine facial expressions through phone calls, said that Putin “sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that [the Mueller investigation] started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse.”
On Sunday, the Russian Embassy stated on Facebook that the hour and a half conversation between the two leaders was initiated by President Trump, who called to discuss “a shared commitment to step up dialogue in various areas, including on issues of strategic ability.” That diplomatic pablum breaks down to a conversation in which foreign-policy expert Donald Trump took the advice of traditional American ally Vladimir Putin on the crises of North Korea and Venezuela.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump and Putin discussed North Korea for “a good bit of time” and “reiterated both the commitment and need for denuclearization.” Sanders said Trump told Putin about the “importance of Russia stepping up” on the Korean Peninsula. CNN reports that the Kremlin said Putin called for Trump to reduce sanctions against the Kim government.
The leadership crisis in Venezuela was the “primary focus” of the call, according to Sanders. On Friday, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that Putin claimed Russia “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.” It appears that Trump is taking Putin at his word regarding Russian foreign policy — despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserting on Wednesday that the Kremlin had talked Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro out of his alleged plan to leave the country for Cuba. Trump’s national-security advisers also reportedly have told the president that Russia is offering critical support to the Maduro government.
Trump has frequently sought the advice of authoritarian leaders on foreign affairs: Glaring examples include his 2018 phone call with Turkish president Recep Erdoğan that reportedly led to Trump’s impromptu decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, and each time he has agreed with Putin regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. Assuming the Russian Embassy’s information is true, it now appears that the president is actively seeking out the advice of Putin, preferring the word of the autocrat to that of his own intelligence community and their briefs that he doesn’t read.