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British Diplomat Calls Trump Administration 'Inept' In Leaked Messages


Criticism of President Trump is now surfacing from an unlikely place; the British Embassy here in Washington. In leaked cables, the U.K.'s ambassador to the U.S. calls President Trump's administration inept and incompetent and says the president radiates insecurity. The comments were first reported by The Mail on Sunday, a British tabloid newspaper. For more, we turn now to NPR's man in London, Frank Langfitt.

Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So not very diplomatic language...

LANGFITT: (Laughter) No.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...From one of Britain's top diplomats. I mean - yeah. What else did the U.K. Ambassador Kim Darroch have to say?

LANGFITT: A lot. Well, I mean, The Mail on Sunday had a ton in the paper today. And in one document, Darroch wrote, quote, "we don't really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal, less dysfunctional, less unpredictable, less faction-riven, less diplomatically clumsy and inept." He also said that when people need to make points to the president, they need to be simple and even blunt.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Other allies in Western Europe have criticized President Trump. Are these comments by themselves surprising?

LANGFITT: No, and I think that's a really good point. You know, if you go back to April, the outgoing French ambassador of the U.S. publicly called Trump, quote, "whimsical, unpredictable and uninformed." And you hear these sorts of assessments throughout Europe, I think at least privately. This morning, I was talking to a guy named Lew Lukens. He spent several years as a top official in the U.S. Embassy here. He knows the British thinking well on Trump, and this is how Lukens put it.

LEWIS LUKENS: It's hard to argue with much that Sir Kim reports in his letter back to London. So he's doing what diplomats are paid to do, which is offer a really honest and candid assessment of the government to which he's represented. And I think he did that and pretty accurately from the sounds of it.

LANGFITT: And so not surprising; of course, the surprising part that this comes out publicly. People in London interested to see how the president may react. And the other question, of course, is why the leak in the first place.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office called the leak mischievous, which leads me to ask, what sort of mischief might someone be trying to make by pushing this out?

LANGFITT: We don't know for sure, but I think you want to focus on the timing here. You know, the Tory Party members, the Conservative Party members, they're voting for their next leader. They just started this weekend. Effectively, this will become the prime minister. Most people expect Boris Johnson, hardcore brexiteer, will win. There's no suggestion that Johnson had anything to do with this leak, but this could provide a pretext to push Darroch out of Washington a bit earlier than he might be scheduled to leave. Darroch's pro-Europe. It would make it easier to replace him with a brexiteer. As we all know, President Trump is pro-Brexit. And the U.K. is desperate for a free trade deal with the U.S. once it eventually - who knows when this is going to be, Lulu - actually leaves the European Union.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And also, of course, President Trump doesn't like public criticism as we know.

LANGFITT: No, he does not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So could this do lasting damage to the close relationship between the two countries?

LANGFITT: You know, I don't think so. People are not responding to it that way in London this morning. Most people think it'll probably be a blip, especially if Darroch leaves sooner than later. And remember. You know, Boris Johnson once said of Trump - this was a quote some sometime ago. He said Trump displayed a stupefying ignorance and was, quote, "unfit to hold office." So (laughter), you know, in the past, Johnson hasn't been very kind about Trump either, but they both like each other a lot - their similar populist styles. People actually think if Johnson gets in, relationships could improve between the United States and the United Kingdom. And the president, so far, seems to have forgiven Mr. Johnson for his earlier unkind statements.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Frank, thank you so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.