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White House: 'Bad Hombres' Remarks to Mexico Were 'Lighthearted'

Donald Trump, then a presidential nominee, walks behind Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto as they arrive to deliver statements to the press in Mexico City on Aug. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them — comments the White House described as “lighthearted.”

The White House said today that the remarks, in an excerpt obtained by The Associated Press from a transcript of the hourlong conversation, were “part of a discussion about how the United States and Mexico could work collaboratively to combat drug cartels and other criminal elements, and make the border more secure.”

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the details publicly, described the conversation as “pleasant and constructive.”

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, according to the excerpt given to the AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

The comments came last Friday in a phone call between Trump and Peña Nieto. The excerpt from the transcript did not detail exactly whom Trump considers “bad hombres,” nor did it make clear the tone and context of the remark.

The Mexican government said “the negative statements” reported in the AP story “did not occur during” the call.

The remark offers a rare and striking look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors. Trump’s remarks suggest he is using the same bravado with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.

At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Trump told the large crowd that his calls with world leaders “have to be tough.” ”When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it, just don’t worry about it,” he said. “They’re tough.”

The president added that the world is “in trouble” and the U.S. is being taken advantage of by other countries. “We’re going to straighten it out,” he said. “That’s what I do. I fix things.”

Eduardo Sanchez, spokesman for Mexico’s presidential office, said the conversation was respectful, not hostile or humiliating. “It is absolutely false that the president of the United States threatened to send troops to Mexico,” Sanchez said in an interview with Radio Formula on Wednesday night.

The Mexican Foreign Relations Department had earlier told The AP: “The negative statements you refer to did not occur during said telephone call. On the contrary, the tone was constructive.”

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to the AP. The person was not authorized to provide the excerpt publicly and gave it on condition of anonymity.

The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Peña Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

Associated Press writers Vivian Salama, Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.