President Donald Trump on Wednesday blasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “two-faced” after video surfaced of various foreign leaders appearing to joke about their American counterpart during a private exchange at the NATO summit in London.
Sitting alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a bilateral meeting in Watford, England, Trump responded to a reporter’s question regarding Trudeau’s comments in the roughly half-minute clip, which has been widely circulated on social media.
“Well, he’s two-faced,” the president said, adding that while Trudeau is “a nice guy,” he was likely upset by Trump’s demands for Canada to increase its defense spending contribution as part of the western military alliance.
“I called him out on that, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it, but that’s the way it is,” Trump said. “Look, I’m representing the U.S., and he should be paying more than he’s paying, and he understands that. So I can imagine he’s not that happy, but that’s the way it is.”
The president’s remarks, as well as a subsequent statement that he would cancel a planned news conference, came after the release of footage showing Trudeau, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apparently dishing on Trump during a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening.
Princess Anne of the United Kingdom — who was featured in another viral video Tuesday in which Queen Elizabeth appeared to shoot her daughter a scolding look for not greeting Trump in a royal receiving line — was also seen partaking in the chatter.
“Is that why you were late?” Johnson is heard asking the group.
“He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top every time,” Trudeau responded.
At another moment in the conversation, Trudeau seemed to be recounting his meeting with Trump before members of the media earlier in the day: “I just watched, I watched his team’s jaws just drop to the floor.”
The Canadian prime minister confirmed during a news conference Wednesday that Trump was the subject of the leaders’ banter.
“Last night, I made a reference to the fact that there was an unscheduled press conference before my meeting with President Trump, and I was happy to take part of it, but it was certainly notable,” he said. “I’ve had a number of good conversations with the president over the course of this day and yesterday.”
Trudeau also revealed that when he described the surprised reaction of White House aides, he was referring to Trump’s impromptu announcement that next year’s G-7 summit would take place at Camp David.
“Every different leader has teams who every now and then have their jaws drop at unscheduled surprises, like that video itself, for example,” Trudeau said, brushing off concerns that his small-talk may have endangered the prospect of a renegotiated NAFTA agreement or the broader U.S.-Canada relationship.
“The relationship between Canada and the Untied States is extremely strong, and I have a very good relationship with President Trump and his team,” he said.
Johnson was also pressed on his role in the video Wednesday when a reporter asked the British prime minister whether he “take[s] President Trump seriously.” Johnson dismissed the question as “complete nonsense,” and said, “I don’t know where that’s come from.”
During a trio of sessions Tuesday with Macron, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Trudeau, Trump and his fellow leaders spoke to the assembled press corps for a total of approximately two hours, with the American president dominating most of the discussion.
But minutes after publicly addressing the video Wednesday, Trump suggested he would “probably go directly back to Washington” following the conclusion of the day’s meetings, and he later confirmed on Twitter that he would not participate in a news conference scheduled for later in the afternoon.
“We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days,” he wrote online.
Trump’s visceral reaction to the hot-mic moment was unsurprising, given his repeated pledges to restore America’s dignity on the world stage and elicit greater respect from heads of state than former President Barack Obama.
“We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be. They won’t be,” Trump memorably declared in June 2017, announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
Still, Trump has struggled with the finer points of statecraft when attending international gatherings throughout his presidency, committing unforced violations of protocol or explicitly denigrating American allies.
After he asserted in a speech last year before the United Nations General Assembly that his administration had “accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” world leaders audibly chuckled at Trump’s claim, prompting the president to insist a day later: “They didn’t laugh at me.”
The escalating controversy over the Buckingham Palace video represents a similar unanticipated diplomatic debacle to close out this week’s NATO summit, which already saw ample on-camera tension between Trump and other leaders with whom his relationships have grown increasingly strained.
The president engaged in a particularity aggressive back-and-forth Tuesday with Macron, whose tack toward managing the unpredictable Trump has ranged from flattery to direct confrontation. In London, he opted for the latter, going so far as imploring Trump to “be serious” with regard to the nature of the Islamic State threat in the Middle East.