Please speak clearly into the chandelier…
In the early morning of May 12th President Trump, clearly pissed off with James Comey his FBI chief whom he had just sacked, tweeted “James Comey better hope that there are no “Tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press”.
The American Press, blinded by their endless comparisons of Trump to Nixon, charged off on a moral crusade at the suggestion this was another indication of the paranoia in Trumps administration, and that The Donald was falling back to using the dastardly low-down dirty underhand evasive dark arts of ol’ Tricky Dicky himself. There were suggestions that these tactics were so low as to be illegal. It certainly played well to the Press’s current obsession with impeaching Trump at the first opportunity. If they could remind everyone of all that “expletive deleted” fun we all had back in the 70’s with chunks of tape going missing at vital moments in the Watergate scandal, then hey so much the better..
Certainly, as tweets go it was confrontational to the point of threatening, a clear shot across the bows of an opponent, and most certainly unlike the quieter arm twisting we might have expected from more subtle operators. A vulgar man pushing his weight about. But was it illegal or even unusual?
What most people do not realise, but which I should have hoped an educated Press would have known, is that Trump and everyone else in Washington are perfectly within their rights to tape conversations even if the other party is unaware that they are being taped. In Washington DC (unlike where you or I might live) it is perfectly OK, and perfectly legal to make tapes as long as one of the parties (here D Trump Esq.) are aware.
Secondly it’s not even unusual for the President of the United States to record his phone conversations or meetings in the White House, and it’s been going on for decades.
Tape recordings were first started by F D Roosevelt way back in the 1940’s, almost eighty years ago now. It was rather limited and neither Truman nor Eisenhower bothered using it or any updated system.
It was left to Jack Kennedy – a Democrat the press might note – to bring in a properly organised and filed system. Kennedy was rightly worried that he was being feed poor military advice and thought it would be wise to have the verbatim record clear. A wonderful book was written about these years “Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F Kennedy” by Ted Widmer, which I reviewed back here. It was the end result of a long project to collect together and clean and restore the tapes so they would be available at the J F Kennedy Presidential Library. Very well worth the read (and listening as it comes with CD’s).
Following Kennedy, another Democrat (just in case the media forget this), Johnson made even more extensive use of the tape system and these are also available if you care to visit Johnson’s Texas Ranch.
It was Nixon who is best remembered for making use of tapes and he kept it real quiet. Only the White House aide Butterfield, Haldeman and a closed group of secret service guys were aware. Even Henry Kissinger was kept out of the loop. Nixon liked taping so much he had them not just in the oval office but in the cabinet room and in the Lincoln Sitting Room as well as down at Camp David.
Following the downfall of Nixon, Ford chose not to use the taping system having the whole system somewhat ostentatiously removed.
Staunch Christian Jimmy Carter would not allow taping, but Ronald Reagan saw the value of them if not for history but for accuracy and happily brought them back. The press do not seem to have any problems with that and certainly do not wish to remind us.
After Reagan, George HW Bush returned to the no-tape policy of Ford and Carter. As to Bill Clinton it is not clear if he did record conversations. One might have thought if he had, these would have come to light during the Lewinsky investigation.
Perhaps the Press, and the rest of the “We-all-hate-Donald-Trump pack might get off their high horse and accept that in this as in so much Trump is doing no more than his predecessors.
Copyright David Macadam 2017