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Transcripts Reveal Trump Told Mexican President Border Wall Is 'Least Important Thing'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Soon after President Trump took office, he had phone calls with world leaders that made headlines. Now The Washington Post has obtained transcripts of a couple of those calls. One is with Mexico's president. Trump describes the border wall he campaigned on as quote, "the least-important thing we are talking about, but politically, this might be the most important." The other transcript is of Trump's call with Australia's prime minister. We heard reports at the time that the chat ended abruptly. Now we can read the play-by-play.

The Washington Post's Greg Miller joins us. Welcome.

GREG MILLER: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: There are a lot of standout quotes in these transcripts. But before we get to them, will you just generally characterize how you see the President communicating with these two important U.S. allies in these conversations?

MILLER: Well, what we say in our story is that you're right. These are two allies - a close neighbor, a very longstanding ally. And it'd be hard to know that based on the transcripts of these calls - the threats that Trump employs here, the amount of pressure he puts on these people, the complaining and accusations that he levels at them. The things he says - I mean it make it seem like they're adversaries. There is no reference to the history or the connections or commonalities between these two countries. It is sort of all focused on in-the-moment political considerations for Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: And political as opposed to policy considerations. He talks a lot about how things will read publicly.

MILLER: Yeah. These conversations are about very difficult issues - immigration with Mexico, trade with Mexico and a deal with Australia to accept 1,250 refugees. There's no real conversation or discussion in these calls about the plight of those refugees or immigrants or even broadly about the repercussions for U.S. relations with either of these countries in terms of their approach to these problems. It is mainly about, how does this reflect on Donald Trump? How does it make him look? He's angry. They don't make him look good. He's unhappy, and he has to express that.

SHAPIRO: Specifically in the phone call with Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico's leader, Trump talked about the border wall in somewhat different terms than he has talked about it publicly. Describe this.

MILLER: It's really a very significant disconnect between his public position. We're going to build a wall; Mexico is going to pay for it - a signature line from many of his rallies during the campaign. And here he is just days after taking office kind of treating that as a charade, as a bait-and-switch. Look; of course the funding is going to - the money for the wall is going to come - have to come from other sources. He at one point says it'll come out in the wash. It'll come out in a formula somehow. But what I need from you is for you to stop saying you're not going to pay for the wall. In other words, I need you to help me maintain this fiction that Mexico's going to pay for this wall regardless of where that money comes from.

SHAPIRO: And then there was this very contentious call with Australia's leader, Malcolm Turnbull, where the focus was a group of refugees that the U.S. had previously agreed to evaluate and perhaps allow into the country. Describe what happened here.

MILLER: So this call is in many ways a much more acrimonious call. Trump right away is very upset about this issue, upset that he has to deal with this. He knows that he had just days earlier signed an executive order banning entry to the United States from Muslim-majority countries. Now he has to accept this deal where he's supposed to take over a thousand refugees from Australia. And it just deteriorates rapidly. He is just going right after the Australian Prime Minister, describing this as a horrendous deal, an embarrassing deal. This makes me look bad.

SHAPIRO: What has the White House said to you about these transcripts?

MILLER: Well, obviously we went to the White House before we published these transcripts, and we asked them to explain. And we spoke to officials who were familiar with these calls. And what they said to us was, look; this is Trump being Trump, doing what he does, trying to advance American interests, stand up for the United States, trying to maximize his leverage in interactions with these two countries.

SHAPIRO: Greg Miller of The Washington Post, thanks a lot.

MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.