LONDON (NYTIMES) - President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Dec 4) called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada “two-faced,” after a video surfaced that showed him venting to other world leaders about Trump’s behaviour at a Nato anniversary celebration designed specifically to avoid unwanted disruptions.
“Well, he’s two-faced,” the president said when asked about the video. After a long pause, he added, “He’s a nice guy. I find him to be a very nice guy.”
Trump, who was taking questions from reporters before a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, attributed Trudeau’s frustration to the US leader’s pressure campaign to increase Canada’s military spending to 2 per cent of its economic output.
“He should be paying more than he’s paying,” Trump said. “I called him out on that, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it, but that’s the way it is.”
The brief video showed grinning world leaders at a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday night, apparently commiserating about the president.
In the video, which was posted online by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Trudeau is heard discussing Trump’s behaviour during the first day of the two-day Nato meeting. Trump spoke to reporters for more than two hours in total on Tuesday, which appeared to astonish Trudeau.
“He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference at the top,” Trudeau says – an apparent reference to Trump – to a small group that includes President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Princess Anne.
Trudeau does not mention Trump by name during the exchange, in which the Canadian leader discusses the day’s bilateral meetings.
“You just watch his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau says at another point.
Macron is also seen participating animatedly in the conversation, but his comments cannot be heard. Johnson is seen smiling.
None of the world leaders seem to realise that the conversation is being recorded. By the afternoon, some of the participants were seeking to distance themselves from the perceived criticism of Trump.
During a news conference, Johnson claimed that he had not been party to any discussion about Trump.
“That’s complete nonsense, and I don’t know where that has come from,” he said. “I really don’t know what is being referred to there.”
Trudeau admitted that he had been talking about Trump in the video, but said at a news conference that his “jaws drop” comment referred only to the surprise announcement that the upcoming Group of 7 summit would be held at Camp David rather than at the Trump National Doral golf resort in Miami.
Trudeau added, “I have a very good relationship with President Trump and his team.”
The Canadian premier’s remark was not the only moment that upended hopes for a drama-free Nato gathering – and wasn’t even the only hot-mic incident of the two-day meeting. Trump was recorded on Wednesday afternoon having a private discussion about his back-and-forth with Trudeau.
“That was funny when I said that guy was two-faced,” he said to an attendee after a luncheon for countries meeting the 2 per cent military spending benchmark.
It was also not the first time that Trump and Trudeau have publicly clashed, or that Trump has accused Trudeau of misrepresenting himself.
Last year, Trump derided the Canadian leader as “very dishonest and weak” after Trudeau pledged at a Group of 7 summit in Quebec City that he would retaliate against US tariffs on steel and aluminium products. Trump wrote on Twitter at the time that Trudeau had acted “so meek and mild” when they met face to face.
Nor was the back-and-forth with Trudeau the first tense moment of the president’s two-day visit.
On Tuesday, Macron put Trump on the defensive during a 45-minute joint appearance in which he aggressively challenged the US president’s vision for Nato and his handling of a military conflict involving Turkey. For Trump, it was a rare face-to-face meeting with another world leader in which he was not driving the conversation.
Trump has long bridled at the idea of other world leaders poking fun at the United States, and part of his 2016 presidential campaign pitch to voters was that his election would change how the United States was viewed abroad.
“The world is laughing at us,” he said frequently during the campaign, criticising the leadership of President Barack Obama.
In June 2017, when he announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Trump said: “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us any more. And they won’t be. They won’t be.”
In 2018, laughter broke out at the UN General Assembly when Trump claimed that his administration had “accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
The president insisted at the time that he was not the target, saying, “They weren’t laughing at me, they were laughing with me.”
None of the Nato leaders on Wednesday publicly acknowledged that they were talking about Trump in the uncomfortable video. But the clip loomed over the gathering of Nato leaders Wednesday morning at The Grove, a country resort in Hertfordshire, where they met for a group photograph and welcome ceremony.
The leaders took the stage one at a time to greet Johnson and Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and pose briefly before the assembled news cameras.
Johnson greeted Trudeau with a handshake and a soft pat on the arm as they stood onstage together. Macron said hello to Johnson with a tap on the hand, and lingered, making jovial small talk before exiting the stage.
Trump arrived late to the meeting, just outside London, and shortly before he was due to emerge on the stage, an aide appeared to inform Johnson of a delay.
“We’re live now,” Johnson, who seemed perturbed, said to the aide before asking how long the delay would be. “A half an hour? 45 minutes? How are we doing?”
Johnson asked the aide few minutes later. “Come on!” After the two co-hosts lingered onstage for about five minutes, rocking back and forth on their heels, Trump emerged and patted Johnson on the back.
Later in the morning, Trump politely shook hands and exchanged a few words with Trudeau before the general meeting of Nato leaders. Trump also wrote on Twitter that he had “enjoyed my meeting with the Prime Minister @BorisJohnson of the United Kingdom at @10DowningStreet last night,” noting that the two had discussed “numerous subjects including @Nato and Trade.”
In addition to Trump’s meeting with Merkel, he was scheduled to hold meetings with the prime minsters of Denmark and Italy.
Trump was also expected to hold a news conference before his departure, but on Wednesday he appeared to abruptly cancel those plans.
“We’ll go directly back,” he said. “I think we’ve done plenty of press conferences. Unless you’re demanding a press conference. But I think we’ve answered plenty of questions.”
The viral video clip was not only seen as a potential embarrassment for Trump. Trudeau also drew criticism for speaking so freely in a setting where his remarks could be recorded.
“By this point in his tenure, the prime minister should realise that events with pool cameras need to be approached and managed as on the record events,” Andrew MacDougall, who was a spokesman for Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, wrote on Twitter.
“Hopefully this gaffe doesn’t wind the President up at a sensitive time” for US-Canada relations, MacDougall wrote.