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White House ‘ends public summaries of foreign calls’

Donald Trump on the phone in the Oval Office.

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The Trump administration will no longer publish public summaries of President Donald Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders, US media report.

Non-public readouts will still be distributed to agencies but press will reportedly be told only certain details of the calls.

Traditionally, both US and foreign heads of state post brief readouts of their conversations after calls.

The White House has not offered reasons for the largely symbolic change.

The Trump administration has not responded to US media for comment on the readout changes.

Critics are calling it the Trump administration’s latest move against transparency, though CNN reports it is unclear if the change will be permanent.

Readouts have been a part of both Democratic and Republican administrations, intended to summarise for the public what both leaders discussed.

Governments may offer different takes on the calls with varying levels of description.

A call between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Mr Trump highlights just how different these accounts can be – the Pakistani readout detailed Mr Trump’s effusive praise of Pakistan and Mr Sharif. The US account was far less descriptive.

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Top lawmakers have called for the Trump administration to release details about what went on in Mr Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Mr Putin

Downing Street publishes summaries of most of the prime minister’s calls with foreign leaders on the government’s website, though they are generally not very detailed.

The last published readout from the White House – just three sentences – was on 16 June, when Mr Trump spoke with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The Washington Post reported this month that the president has been giving foreign leaders his mobile phone number since the start of his presidency, causing confusion among aides over when calls occur.

Last April, a senior official told the Post that they “had no idea what happened” with a call between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mr Trump, and were only aware of it after Canada published a readout.

The Post also published details of the president’s calls with Mexico and Australia last August, which reportedly enraged the president.

Since then, the president has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Foreign media outlets reported them first, and while the White House confirmed the calls, they did not offer further details.

From ‘alternative facts’ to rewriting history

Analysis byJon Sopel, BBC North America editor

Politicians love transparency when it best suits them. But in the past two weeks, a line has been crossed.

The White House has said that it will no longer provide information about when the president holds conversations with foreign leaders, as it has always done hitherto.

It was always useful to compare and contrast what, say, the Kremlin would have to say about the conversation compared to the White House. Now we will no longer be able to do that.

At a rally in Kansas City, Donald Trump came out with a memorable phrase that sounded as though it had been lifted straight from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. He said “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.”

Or it is. There is just a concerted – and sometimes it would seem – systematic effort to make you think otherwise.

Read the full analysis here.

The Trump administration has also recently faced demands that records of Mr Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin be released.

This week, allegations arose that the White House had edited out the question of whether Mr Putin wanted Mr Trump to win from its summit transcript, but this was reportedly the result of an audio feed error.

The Russian official transcript had omitted the entire question as well.

Media captionThe cartoons capturing the imagination of Trump’s conservative base

What are critics saying?

Former National Security Council adviser Samantha Vinograd called readouts an “important mechanism” for the White House to provide information and reactions to the public – especially since foreign governments would be doing the same to their citizens.

Comparisons to Russia and North Korea have also been floating around social media.

Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational fund, said Mr Trump “has successfully privatised the Presidency”.

Media captionDonald Trump: ‘What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening’

The controversial change follows another call from the president telling supporters not to believe “the fake news”.

Speaking at a veterans convention in Missouri on Tuesday, Mr Trump said: “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.”

Critics quickly pointed out the similarities between Mr Trump’s words and George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, which tells the tale of a society oppressed by a “big brother” government.

White House ‘ends public summaries of foreign calls’

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