Wednesday night, as President Trump made his way to Wisconsin and then Washington, D.C. following a rally in North Dakota, he returned a phone call from Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez. For several minutes, the two lawmakers discussed Trump’s abusive child separation policy, as well as his plans to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s soon-to-be-vacant seat on the Supreme Court.
Such conversations are, for good reason, private. And yet, you can listen to the entire exchange below for yourself. Why? Because the president of the United States, using state-of-the-art military equipment aboard the most secure airplane in the known universe, instead returned the phone call of a prankster with a podcast.
John Melendez — better known as “Stuttering John” to longtime fans of The Howard Stern Show, where he worked in various on and off-air capacities for more than 15 years — decided he would try to get Trump on the phone during a recent episode of his new podcast. As you might expect from a 90’s-era shock jock based in New York City, Melendez has a history with the Trump family, and recounted past instances of phoning the self-proclaimed billionaire for casual chitchat.
After a series of conversations with various White House phone operators and support staff — first using his own name, then using pseudonyms like John Sterling (the New York Yankees’ radio play-by-play guy) and Sean Moore (a portmanteau of Sean Connery and Roger Moore) to pose as an aide from Sen. Menendez’s office — Melendez got through to a staff member, who informed him that Trump was in the middle of giving a speech, but would call back afterward.
After hanging up, Melendez was giddy he had gotten even that far without getting his cover blown. And in most White Houses, which employ a staff competent enough to Google the names of a U.S. senator’s office staff, that’s where the story might have ended.
But this White House employs the likes of Jared Kushner, who, according to a source inside the White House, was reportedly responsible for routing not-Menendez’s call directly to the president, bypassing the Office of Legislative Affairs, which would normally handle communications between lawmakers and the Executive Branch. That is how, minutes later, Trump dialed Melendez’s cell phone from Air Force One, and began talking to a person he believed to be Sen. Menendez himself.
“Hi Bob, how are you? Congratulations on everything, we’re proud of you,” he said. “Congratulations, great job. You went through a tough situation, and I don’t think a very fair situation.”
It’s unclear to what exactly Trump was referring, but Menendez has been dogged by serious criminal allegations, including a 2015 indictment for bribery, fraud, and making false statements. A judge declared a mistrial in 2017 after the jury was unable to reach a verdict, and the charges were dropped by the Justice Department early this year.
Melendez — as Menendez — returned the greeting and small talk before asking Trump what he should tell his constituents who were demanding answers about the Trump administration’s policy of forcibly removing immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Bob, let me just tell you, I want to be able to take care of the situation every bit as much as anybody else at the top level,” Trump responded. “I’d like to do the larger solution rather than the smaller situation, you know, they’re doing them step by step. I think we can do the whole thing.”
He added, “You know, I have a good relationship with the [Democratic] Party, you have a good relationship with the party. We have to have security at the border, we have to have it. Look, you’ve got 60 percent of the country, they’ve got to have security at the border.”
Both men quickly lost interest, and Melendez brought up the news of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Melendez assured Trump that he would have his support — presumably, the podcast’s endorsement — for a more moderate Supreme Court nominee.
“I have a big list of people, Bob, we’ll take a look at it, I’ll probably make a decision in the next few weeks,” said Trump. “We’re going to probably make a decision over the next two weeks be done over the next 12 to 14 days.”
After another minute or so of chatter, the call ended, with both men agreeing to talk again “soon.”
The substance of their conversation was remarkably dull, though if there were any lingering doubts about whether or not Trump’s general indifference towards facts and information was just an act, the ease with which he tossed out random, fabricated numbers and statistics on a private phone call with a US Senator should put those doubts to bed.
The very existence of the call itself, however, is at once hilarious and alarming.
According to Politico reporter Annie Karni, the White House was alerted to the security lapse Friday morning, and was reportedly frantic to figure out what had happened and how.
WH has been scrambling this morning to figure out how this happened. https://t.co/OnLDLmUK7t
— Annie Karni (@anniekarni) June 29, 2018
This is hardly the first time the Trump administration has displayed its amateurism when it comes to proper security protocol. The online network set up at Mar-A-Lago, Donald Trump’s gaudy Floridian resort where he frequently conducts matters of state, was found to be comically insecure. Trump himself has refused to abide by basic security measures with his personal phone, insisting that they were “too inconvenient” for his Twitter habit.
As a final insult on Wednesday, as Trump hung up the phone with not-Sen. Menendez, the podcast host said his goodbyes, adding a departing “baba booey” before the click on the other end of the phone.
It’s unclear whether Trump heard him.