White House: President Trump Comments on Mexico ‘Lighthearted’

WASHINGTON (AP) -
A section of the border wall at Tijuana, Mexico. (Reuters/Jorge Duenes)

President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them — comments the White House described as “lighthearted.”

The White House said Thursday that the comments, in an excerpt obtained by The Associated Press from a transcript of the hourlong conversation, were “part of a discussion about how the United States and Mexico could work collaboratively to combat drug cartels and other criminal elements, and make the border more secure.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the details publicly, described the conversation as “pleasant and constructive.”

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, according to the excerpt given to the AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

The comments came last Friday in a phone call between Trump and Peña Nieto. The excerpt from the transcript did not detail exactly whom Trump considers “bad hombres,” nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark.

The Mexican government said “the negative statements” reported in the AP story “did not occur during” the call.

The remark offers a rare look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors. President Trump’s remarks suggest he is using the same bravado with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.

Eduardo Sanchez, spokesman for Mexico’s presidential office, said the conversation was respectful, not hostile or humiliating. “It is absolutely false that the president of the United States threatened to send troops to Mexico,” Sanchez said in an interview with Radio Formula on Wednesday night.

The Mexican Foreign Relations Ministry had earlier told the AP: “The negative statements you refer to did not occur during said telephone call. On the contrary, the tone was constructive.”

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to the AP. The person was not authorized to provide the excerpt publicly and gave it on condition of anonimity.

The Mexican website Aristeguí Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described President Trump as humiliating Peña Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Ministry said the report was “based on absolute falsehoods.”

Political analyst and former presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilár noted that Peña Nieto had seen his low approval levels improve, as Mexicans rallied around him for publicly challenging Trump in the border wall dispute.

The latest remarks could undercut that, if Peña Nieto is viewed as “weak,” he said.

At a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, Trump described his call with Peña Nieto as “friendly.”

In a statement, the White House said the two leaders acknowledged their “clear and very public differences” and agreed to work through the immigration disagreement as part of broader discussions on the relationship between their countries.