(CNN)President Donald Trump has a soft spot for strongmen. We know this.
From Russian President Vladimir Putin to Egypt's Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his shoes, Trump both during the 2016 campaign and in the early stages of his presidency has exhibited an affection for authoritarian rulers that stretches beyond what we've come to expect from American leaders.
When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan prevailed, just barely and among allegations of fraud, in a referendum designed to undermine his country's democratic infrastructure, Trump called to congratulate him. Of North Korea's Kim Jong Un (more on him in coming up), the President seems to be of two minds: Kim is a "maniac," but also a "smart cookie."
So when a transcript of Trump's April 29 call with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was published by multiple outlets on Tuesday, the details of their exchange, though shocking, were not particularly surprising. Trump has applauded Duterte, the author of a bloody and extrajudicial drug war that has killed thousands of Filipinos, in earlier remarks. Their discussion last month offered more of the same -- glowing, personal praise and more than a few invitations to visit the White House.
Here's the transcript of their call, with our annotations. I cleaned up the copy for clarity. (You can view the original document, obtained by The Washington Post and The Intercept, here.) The discussion begins around 10 p.m. ET.:
DUTERTE: President Trump, thank you for calling, and good evening, it's night over here.
TRUMP: OK, I hope it's not too late? It's OK isn't it? Is it too late?
DUTERTE: No, it's OK, we are just having dinner with some members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
POTUS: Oh, OK, good because know you don't sleep much, you're just like me. You are not a person who goes to bed at all. I know that, right?
DUTERTE: Yes. You are right, Mr. President.
TRUMP: l just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.
Here's what Phelim Kline of Human Rights watch told CNN's Josh Berlinger and Elise Labott in response to this line: "Any assertion by any world leader, including US President Donald Trump, that Duterte is doing 'an unbelievable job' by cheerleading a murderous campaign that has killed more than 7,000 Filipinos is not only a gross insult to those victims and their family members, but sends a signal to Duterte and his willing executioners that their lawless killing spree can continue with a vengeance without fear of international criticism and repercussions."
For more on the gruesome toll of Duterte's drug war, have a look at the gripping (and, warning: often gruesome) CNN photo essay feature,"City of the Dead."
DUTERTE: Thank you, Mr President. This is the scourge of my nation now and have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.
TRUMP: I understand that and fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that, but I understand that and we have spoken about this before.
Trump offers a clear dig at his predecessor, President Barack Obama, in this exchange. It's another example of how, whether in private or in front of thousands of supporters, Trump is always keenly aware and seeking to shape how he is perceived -- in particular by parceling out blame and credit as it suits him. Duterte, we should note, was no fan of Obama and has previously called him a "son of a bitch."
DUTERTE: Yes, I know that. Thank you. Yes.
TRUMP: So how is everyone doing, how is the Philippines doing?
DUTERTE: We are doing fine, Mr. President, but in the ASEAN summit, every member state was really nervous about the situation in the Korean peninsula, but we would like to tell you that we support you and keep on the pressure because as long as those rockets and warheads are in the hands of Kim Jong Un we will never be safe, as there's no telling what will happen next.
TRUMP: What's your opinion of (Kim), Rodrigo? Are we dealing with someone who is stable or not stable?
At this point, Trump -- now addressing his counterpart as "Rodrigo" -- have become downright chummy. It is, of course, totally reasonable to solicit input from fellow foreign leaders, but there is nothing in Duterte's background to suggest he would know more about Kim's state of mind than US intelligence.
DUTERTE: He is not stable, Mr. President, as he keeps on smiling when he explodes a rocket. He even has gone against China, which is the last country he should rebuke. But it seems from his face -- he is laughing always and there is a dangerous toy in his hands which could create so much agony and suffering for all mankind.
TRUMP: Well, he has got the powder but he doesn't have the delivery system. All his rockets are crashing. That's the good news. But eventually when he gets that delivery system... What do you think about China? Does China have power over him?
Long before this call, Trump insisted -- correctly, according to most analysts -- that China does have a good deal of leverage in dealing with the North Koreans. Here, he seems to look for confirmation on that point. He also makes reference to a failed missile test he'd tweeted about, according to the timeline, a little more than a day before.
Here's Trump at 7:26 p.m. ET, on April 28: "North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!"
DUTERTE: Yes, at the end of the day, the last card, the ace has to be with China. It's only China. He is playing with his bombs, his toys and from the looks of it, his mind is not working well and he might just go crazy one moment. China should make a last ditch effort to tell him to lay off. China will play a very important role there.
TRUMP: We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines -- the best in the world -- not that we want to use them at all. I've never seen anything like they are but we don't have to use this but he could be crazy so we will see what happens.
Remember when Trump apparently coughed up highly classified information during an Oval Office meeting with top Russian officials? Well, this might not rise to that level, but again we see the President chatting away about potentially sensitive information -- the location of "two submarines" -- in the context of a bragging aside ("the best in the world").
DUTERTE: Every generation has a mad man -- in our generation it is Kim Jong Un -- you are dealing with a very delicate problem--
TRUMP: --we can handle it.
DUTERTE: But you can keep the pressure on him.
TRUMP: I hope China solves the problem. They really have the means because a great degree of (North Korea's) stuff comes through China. They are doing certain things, like not accepting calls. But if China doesn't do it, we will do it.
On this point, Trump has been pretty consistent. In fact, his comment here could have been read off his Twitter feed! Here's what he posted about two weeks before the call: "I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A."
Of Chinese influence on Pyongyang, Trump said in an April 21 tweet, "China is very much the economic lifeline to North Korea so, while nothing is easy, if they want to solve the North Korean problem, they will."
DUTERTE: I will try to make a call to President Xi Jinping and I will try to tell him that if we will remain to be peaceful, China has the card. The other option is a nuclear blast, which is not good for everybody.
TRUMP: You can tell him I am counting on him. I have a very good relationship with him. I had him in Florida for two days and got to know him well. He is a good guy.
After more than a year on the trail railing against China, Trump has evolved very quickly since taking office and especially following his brief summit with Xi. It was during a dinner in Florida that Trump informed Xi, by the President's own account, of his decision to authorize air strikes targeting the Syrian regime as the leaders sat over the "most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen."
DUTERTE: I will do that I will call his Ambassador here and will make an appointment to call him. It will be good if can keep on the pressure on Kim but actually we are all worried as we are all within the striking distance of his rockets. We are all afraid.
TRUMP: We can't let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20 but we don't want to use it. You will be in good shape.
DUTERTE: We believe it, we know it all along. I will try to make a call tomorrow to China.
TRUMP: Please call China and tell them we are all counting on China. Tell (Xi) -- we became friends for two days -- he was great.
On another subject, I am coming to see you I guess sometime.
More bragging. By all accounts, the Chinese leader's visit to the US was a mostly warm and agreeable encounter. Trump here suggests that he and Xi developed some kind of special bond over a couple days. The likelihood here is that the situation -- and the geopolitical angling -- are way, way more complicated.
DUTERTE: November hopefully, we will be happy to see you
TRUMP: Thank you, Mr President. You are a good man. Yes, certainly in November. Welcome and thank you and we will be happy to see you, Rodrigo. l look forward to seeing you. If you want to come to the Oval Office. I will love to have you in Oval Office. Anytime you want to come. I will be in the in the Philippines in November, but anytime if you are in DC or anywhere, come see me in the Oval Office. Work it out with your staff. Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know. Just take care of yourself, and we will take care of North Korea. Keep up good work, you are doing an amazing job. Say hello to people of the Philippines for me.
Wow. Trump really wants Duterte to swing by! If he has any issue with entertaining someone who has been open about his desire to kill drug users -- and who has been accused, under oath, by a self-proclaimed "death squad" leader of having done so on Duterte's orders -- it is not apparent here.
DUTERTE: They know that you are calling. It is the last day of the ASEAN Summit and everyone was asking. Sultan Bolkiah (of Brunei) just left but I will tell the remaining guys here what you told me. We are all for peace, there's no secret about that.
TRUMP: Good, take care of yourself, come see me before November, you are invited anytime.
DUTERTE: I will do that Mr President. Thank you for the concern. God bless you, Mr. President.
TRUMP: Take care of yourself, Rodrigo. God bless you.