Trump derailed Oval Office China talks with Stormy Daniels rant, book says

<span>Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in 2020.</span><span>Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in 2020.Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump has made antipathy to China a cornerstone of his campaign to return to the White House next year, but according to a new book, he allowed another obsession, over women and sex, to derail a White House meeting with a senior US tech executive meant to address Chinese threats to US telecoms networks.

“You don’t say no to the president,” Randall Stephenson, then chief executive of AT&T, tells the New York Times reporter David Sanger about a summons to the Oval Office in 2019.

Trump had seen Stephenson talking on television about China and wanted to discuss the matter further, Sanger writes. But in the event, Stephenson says, Trump ranted about women and in particular Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who claimed an affair and whose hush-money payments from Trump are set to be the subject of his first criminal trial, starting in New York on Monday.

“Trump burned up the first 45 minutes of the meeting by riffing on how men got into trouble,” Sanger writes in his book, New Cold Wars: China’s Rise, Russia’s Invasion, and America’s Struggle to Defend the West.

“It was all about women and private planes, he claimed. Then he went into a long diatribe about Stormy Daniels, the former porn star who claimed she had had an affair with him. It was ‘all part of the same stand-up comedy act’, Stephenson later recalled … and ‘we were left with 15 minutes to talk about Chinese infrastructure.’”

New Cold Wars will be published in the US on Tuesday. The Guardian obtained a copy.

Stephenson says that when Trump finally got round to discussing China, he “seemed fixated on the question of whether the Chinese, by moving their equipment into western markets, could listen in on phone calls or read emails – the ‘back door’ problem that intelligence agencies often briefed Trump about”.

Stephenson was less concerned, given Chinese proficiency in hacking that made such fears largely irrelevant, and tried to explain bigger risks: that China, through companies such as Huawei or ZTE, might be able to “cripple the US communications grid”, and that Beijing might gain global dominance through investment in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

But Stephenson “could see that the president’s mind was elsewhere. ‘This is really boring,’ Trump finally said.”

An entrance by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, gave Stephenson his excuse to change the subject then leave.

Stephenson had another, more bruising brush with Trump – which also contained a link to the Stormy Daniels affair.

The year before the abortive China meeting, the AT&T chief told employees the company had seen its reputation damaged by a decision to spend $600,000 on hiring Michael Cohen as a political consultant.

“Our company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons these last few days and our reputation has been damaged,” Stephenson wrote in a memo. “There is no other way to say it: AT&T hiring Michael Cohen … was a big mistake.”

Related: Trump thought Ukraine ‘must be part of Russia’ during presidency, book says

Cohen was hired to advise on regulatory matters. But his appeal as a consultant arose from his work as Trump’s lawyer and fixer, before and after Trump entered politics.

Cohen orchestrated and was reimbursed for the hush-money payments to Daniels that produced the 34 criminal charges against Trump now set to be tried in Manhattan. Jailed for fraud and lying to Congress, Cohen turned on Trump. He is due to be a key government witness.

Trump denies wrongdoing and claims political persecution – as he does regarding 54 criminal charges in three other cases and multimillion-dollar penalties in two civil suits.