This week, Donald Trump again demonstrated why America is concerned about his ability to make rational decisions for national security, since he apparently struggles to even handle decisions about his own phone security. A prank caller reached out to Trump pretending to be a U.S. senator, and Trump answered not only the phone, but all of the caller’s questions — without, apparently, bothering to verify who he was actually talking to.
Of course, it’s not only Trump’s fault. Nobody expects the President of the United States to quiz callers and make them prove their identity. However, it’s generally expected that a great leader will surround himself with the kind of staff who can serve as a buffer and prevent such calls from getting through in the first place — and that any leader would be at least on some level of alert for suspicious activity. Instead, the podcaster handles the single verification effort by a White House staffer with the simplest lie.
One would also think that perhaps Trump would consider a Democratic Senator promising to support an as-yet-unnamed SCOTUS nominee suspicious. Should any Senator of any party promise support before knowing the nominee? Perhaps it’s Trump’s obsession with unconditional loyalty that closes his eyes to the very possibility that someone could trick him in such a manner.
John Melendez, a comedian who runs a podcast under the name ‘Stuttering John,’ announced his feat on Thursday. He had, he claimed, prank called the president and recorded the conversation for his podcast. Fans were unbelieving — surely he must have a joke planned with a Trump impersonator. He assured them this was not the case, but listeners remained skeptical. However, Politico has verified that the call really took place, and that the White House is still trying to figure out how their security protocols didn’t catch the simple maneuver.
— John Melendez (@stutteringjohnm) June 28, 2018
The full podcast may contain language that could offend some listeners. Skip to one hour and ten minutes to hear the call, in which Trump never appears to suspect any foul play.
Other key points in the podcast:
- At about 38 minutes in, Melendez reaches a White House staffer who takes his number and promises a return call when Trump is available.
- About 46 minutes in he gets a return call from an operator at the White House, who does make an effort to verify the number, noting that it’s not on their current list. The comedian assures the operator that he’s just using a cell phone while on vacation, which she accepts easily.
- 59 minutes in, Melendez is back to describe the phone call he received from Jared Kushner, who Melendez credits with finally connecting him to Trump.
The President’s first act on the call is perhaps the most shocking. He congratulates the fake Bob Menendez on his triumph in an unfair situation — apparently referring to Menendez’s recent mistrial on charges of bribery and corruption. NPR reports that Menendez did take a scolding from the Senate Ethics Committee, but escaped conviction.
Congratulations on everything. We’re proud of you….You went through a tough situation,and I don’t think a very fair situation. Congratulations.
Most of Trump’s answers resemble what he would say on a podium — no details, broad claims, and plenty of bragging. He sidesteps a question about reuniting immigrant children with their parents, instead, saying that 60% of Americans want border security. When Melendez asks Trump about Justice Kennedy’s replacement — “Are you gonna go more moderate, or more conservative?” Trump evades the question, saying he’s looking over “a big list of people.”
What does it say about the President of the United States that not only can a prank caller get through to him so easily, but that the first connection Donald Trump can think of with a Democratic Senator is that he has escaped criminal charges? If a comedian can get the president on the line, answering questions freely with almost no attempt at verification before he’s connected, who else has access to the American president?