WASHINGTON/MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The White House on Thursday brushed off news of a leaked video of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull making fun of U.S. President Donald Trump and alluding to ties with Russia.
“I don’t think anybody cares about that,” a senior White House official said of Turnbull’s remarks at a news media ball at Parliament House in Canberra late on Wednesday that was supposed to have been off the record.
“The Donald and I ... we are winning in the polls. We are! Not the fake polls. We are winning in the real polls. You know, the online polls. They are so easy to win,” Turnbull said in the leaked recording, he adding: “I have this Russian guy ...”
An Australian journalist broadcast the recording, saying that because he had not been at the event, he was not bound by the confidentiality rule.
Turnbull, who had a famously frosty first telephone call with Trump early this year, later told the 3AW radio station that the leak was a breach of protocol, but his “affectionately lighthearted” speech was a “good-humoured roast” in which he was the butt of his own jokes.
The U.S. embassy in Canberra said it understood the Mid-Winter Ball was the equivalent of the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, at which the U.S. media and president traditionally rib each other.
“We take this with the good humour that was intended,” the embassy said.
The White House official, who asked to not be identified, referred to a “good” first face-to face meeting between Trump and Turnbull in New York last month at which they declared that they “get along great.”
That was not the case when Turnbull became one of the first foreign leaders Trump spoke to after taking office on Jan. 20.
During their phone call, Trump became irritated about an agreement made by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, to accept as many as 1,250 refugees held in Australian processing centres on remote Pacific islands.
Trump broke off what was supposed to be an hour-long call after 25 minutes and later tweeted that the refugee agreement was “dumb.”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Australia in April and said that while Trump was not happy about the refugee agreement, the United States would honour it.
Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed and Colin Packham in Sydney and Steve Holland and David Brunnstrom in Washington; editing by Robert Birsel and Jonathan Oatis