Accessibility links

Breaking News

What happens when POTUS calls a foreign leader?

President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has roiled Washington. VOA has spoken with several former senior NSC officials to understand how the White House conducts these calls.

By William Gallo | VOA News


Ahead of the phone call, National Security Council staff prepare a briefing, including talking points, for the president.

A regional or country-specific NSC department prepares the briefing.

Other relevant NSC department heads review it.

The National Security Advisor approves the briefing.

Typically, the night before the call, the president studies the briefing and directs any questions to the National Security Advisor.

The call

Most presidential calls take place in the Oval Office. They include just a handful of people, including the National Security Advisor and one or two other senior NSC directors or presidential advisers.

The Oval Office

The Situation Room

Downstairs in the White House, in the Situation Room, two NSC staffers transcribe the phone call.

If the foreign leader doesn’t speak English, an interpreter is also present.

When the call is finished, a senior director in the Situation Room reviews the notes and transcript.

“These aren’t taped. … I was a note-taker on a couple calls. It’s frantic. You’re typing so fast, you just get what you can.”

Mark Feierstein
Senior Director for Western Hemisphere
in former President Obama’s National Security Council

The distribution

A senior NSC director then determines which senior White House staff and Cabinet members should be able to access the info.

Those agency heads will distribute it within their organizations as needed.

How many people will see the transcripts?

Inside the White House, only 10-20 people would have access to the transcript. If senior leaders at other agencies are included, the number can climb to as high as 50 or more.

A version of this graphic was originally published in September 2017.