President Donald Trump sought to have the leaders of Australia and Mexico make concessions on immigration, at least publicly, to improve Trump's image on the issue early in his presidency, according to what The Washington Post reported are transcripts of those conversations.
Trump had calls with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about a week after he was inaugurated. Trump asked Peña Nieto to consider dropping his public insistence that Mexico will not pay for the wall along its border during negotiations, while he argued with Turnbull that upholding a prior agreement to accept 1,250 Syrian refugees being watched over by Australia would "kill me" politically, according to the transcripts the Post published.
And Trump allegedly chalked up his primary victory in New Hampshire to the fact that it is a "drug-infested den," a characterization that prompted backlash from the state's Republican governor and two senators.
U.S. & World
A White House representative could not confirm or deny the authenticity of the leaked classified documents, which the Post published in full, to NBC News. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the backlash.
The White House declined to comment to the Post, which reported that an official familiar with the conversations said, "The president is a tough negotiator" who is "direct and forceful in his determination to put America and Americans first."
Both leaders visited the U.S. after their phone conversations in late January, and immigration continues to be an important issue for Trump, whose executive order to limit immigration from several Muslim-majority countries partially went into effect in June after stiff legal challenges.
Talk of the border wall took up most of the discussion with Mexico's president, even though it became clear the two leaders would not agree on what to say after Trump insisted its funding "will work out in the formula somehow."
In one exchange, Peña Nieto said: "My position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall."
Trump replied: "But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances."
When Trump told his counterpart that he wanted to balance the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico, Peña Nieto said he intended to have his administration work to find mutual benefit.
They agreed to work together to combat drug cartels, and during that conversation, Trump said as an aside that he "won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den."
Both of the state's U.S. senators criticized his comments in statements on Twitter, while Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement that Trump was wrong.
"It’s disappointing his mischaracterization of this epidemic ignores the great things this state has to offer," he said.
It was previously reported that Trump's call with Turnbull was contentious — Sen. John McCain called Turnbull later to reiterate the United States' commitment to the alliance with Australia — but the White House staff-produced transcripts the newspaper obtained show how the conversation unfolded.
"Why is this so important? I do not understand. This is going to kill me. I am the world's greatest person that does not want to let people into the country," Trump said after Turnbull said it is important to Australia that the deal be upheld.
Trump grudgingly accepted that he was obliged to follow the "embarrassing" deal, but he said before ending the call that the call was more unpleasant than one he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day. It's not clear when the refugees will be resettled.
"I have had it," Trump said. "I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous."
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, an occasional critic of the president's, said it was unfair that the leaked transcripts were being shared.
"Whether you like President Trump or not, no president can do business if their phone calls are going to be leaked to The Washington Post," he told NBC News. "I hope (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions can do something about the leaking because it's really hurting the president."