Donald Trump regularly “bullied and humiliated” Theresa May on the phone, saying she was “spineless” on Brexit, one of the journalists who broke the Watergate scandal has claimed.
The US president attacked the then British prime minister as “a fool” for her pro-Remain stance on the European Union, ties with Nato and other issues the pair disagreed on, Carl Bernstein reported for CNN.
“He’d get agitated about something with Theresa May, then he’d get nasty with her on the phone call,” wrote Mr Bernstein, quoting a source who described the verbal assaults as “near-sadistic”. “It’s the same interaction in every setting with just no filter applied,” the source said.
Mr Trump’s relationship with Mrs May was notoriously fraught, with both taking very different approaches to issues which once bonded the two countries.
Observers described the special relationship during the period Mrs May served as premier as arguably at its lowest point since the Suez Crisis of 1956.
According to Mr Bernstein’s sources, Mr Trump reserved his most vicious verbal attacks for female leaders and heads of state.
He reportedly denigrated Mrs May and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, while he was always cordial – even reverential – to strongman leaders such presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
“Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel are just unbelievable: he called her ‘stupid,’ and accused her of being in the pocket of the Russians,,” the source claimed. “He’s toughest [in the phone calls] with those he looks at as weaklings and weakest with the ones he ought to be tough with.”
While Mrs Merkel managed to outwardly appear unruffled during the conversations, Mr Bernstein’s source said that Mrs May, in contrast, became “flustered and nervous”. “He clearly intimidated her and meant to,” the source said.
Mr Trump was also said to have resisted asking Mrs Merkel – at the UK’s urging – to publicly hold Mr Putin accountable for the Salisbury poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
The claims made to Mr Bernstein, who together with Bob Woodward revealed scandals that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, were similar to some of those made in former national security adviser John Bolton’s newly released book The Room Where it Happened.
However, the calls described to CNN cover a far longer period than Mr Bolton’s tenure and are much more comprehensive, according to Mr Bernstein.
Mr Bolton also said he noticed his former boss was much harsher with female leaders than with male ones. Sky News asked Mr Bolton in a recent interview whether he thought the president was sexist. “I don’t know what the issue is but time and again we ran into that difficulty,” he answered.
In response to a request for comment about Mr Trump’s behaviour in calls with Mrs May, Downing Street referred CNN to its website, which lists brief descriptions of the content of some calls.
Mr Bolton, conversely, has claimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whom Mr Trump sees as a natural ally, played the president “like a fiddle”.
“I’ve known Boris before he was prime minister,” Mr Bolton said. “I think he’s got a good sense of humour and I had the sense that behind those twinkling eyes he was playing Trump like a fiddle too.
“There was a sea change in the personal relationship that existed between Donald Trump and Theresa May when Boris Johnson came in. The reason this is positive for Britain is that Trump can’t distinguish between his personal relationships with a counterpart leader and the actual state of the national relationships between two countries.”