May 13th, 2017

Trump and the tapes

Chris Wallace is shocked, shocked:

Speaking with Shepard Smith Friday, the Fox News Sunday anchor offered his stunning take on the developments of the past week — from James Comey‘s firing as Director of the FBI on Tuesday to Friday afternoon’s White House press briefing; a briefing in which, when asked by Jeff Mason of Reuters, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not deny the presence of recording devices in the Oval Office.

“When I heard that exchange today between Jeff Mason, White House reporter, and Sean Spicer speaking from the podium in the briefing room for the President of the United States, it took my breath away,” Wallace said.

Wallace continued:

“That was what in Watergate they called a non-denial denial. He was asked specifically, is there a recording device in the Oval Office of the President of the United States? He said, ‘I have nothing for you on that.’ He could have said no. He could have said yes. He said I have nothing for you on that. That is a non-denial denial.”

When Shepard Smith asked Wallace the question about Oval Office tapings, he had phrased it this way:

This [Oval Office taping] was common practice, I guess, it seems, from all I can find out, Chris, the last time was really during Nixon’s administration—recording conversations.

Let me just pause for a moment and say how sick and tired I am of the news these days. I’m tired of having to remind people of how I’m not a Trump fan or a reflexive Trump-defender. I’m tired of having my energy be distracted and time wasted by things I consider unimportant and that the world seems to consider exceptionally important. And I’m especially tired of people like Shep Smith and Chris Wallace, journalists of long-standing who are supposed to be professionals, saying things without properly researching them.

If I wanted to hear two people gossiping about something, and saying how shocked they are by something that really isn’t especially shocking, I could go to any corner coffee shop and eavesdrop.

But enough about me.

We have no idea whether Trump did in fact tape this conversation with Comey, or whether it was an empty threat. If he did tape it, we also have no idea whether it is his “common practice” to do so. And I suppose it also depends what is meant by “common practice.” But White House tapings have been going on since before Nixon and after Nixon. You can find a number of articles about the phenomenon if you care to, such as for example this one at WGBH:

“Almost as soon as we had the technology to allow recorded conversations, FDR signed on in 1940,” Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, told NPR’s All Things Considered Friday. The Miller Center houses the recordings of six different presidents. The recordings can be heard in the Miller Center’s feature, “The Secret White House Tapes.”…

There are very few recordings from the Truman era, and only about 75 from Eisenhower…

But Truman and Eisenhower were from a different generation as Kennedy. He began recordings in earnest after he felt he received bad advice in the run up to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Kennedy was savvy about what was available to him and “so careful about how his image was portrayed,” Perry said.

Kennedy kept his recordings secret, appearing not to want even advisers or those on the phone to know…

Johnson ratcheted up the use of secret tapes and made it a staple of his White House. He added more technology; the technology got better; and he wanted to record as many meetings and phone calls as possible…

There is no law preventing secret White House recordings, and some kept it up — most notably Reagan.

“Reagan was presented with the option of continuing or not continuing the phone tapings in the Oval Office for national security purposes,” Politifact quotes Doyle referencing Michael Deaver, Reagan’s chief of staff. “And obviously tapings were a very controversial subject ever since the Nixon days. But Reagan could see the value of it, not so much for history but for accuracy … and readily agreed to continue the tapings.”…

There’s some evidence that George W. Bush recorded at least some video conferences…

[An author interviewing Obama relates] “As I was walking out of the Oval Office with Ben Rhodes [a foreign policy adviser to Obama],” Bowden said, “I said, Ben, you’re not going to believe this, but my recorder died in the middle of that somewhere.

” ‘Ah, don’t worry about it,’ he says, ‘we record everything in here. We’ll get you a transcript before you leave.’ And he did.”…

But Rhodes told NPR that while it was true the Obama White House recorded interviews with the media — a common practice among campaigns, too — it was out in the open…

“We obviously didn’t record private meetings.”

Now, put it all together and what do you get? Recordings of interviews with President Trump may have been made. This would be nowhere near as unprecedented or controversial as Smith and Wallace made it sound. The problematic aspect of it, to my way of thinking, was Trump’s use of the possible existence of the tape as a Twitter threat to challenge the veracity of Comey’s account of things. This is not “shocking,” however, in the sense that anyone who has observed Trump should know that’s the sort of thing he would do. His public posturing and threats feed into the worst fears of people who are genuinely disturbed by his tendencies towards impulsiveness, bullying, and perhaps even potentially to abuse of power. And all to what purpose?

Of course, it’s probably better to do it openly than clandestinely, if you’re going to do it at all. And Trump certainly seems to display it out in the open.

So what was it Chris Wallace was so all-fired stunned about? What was it that took his breath away? If it was that Trump might have recorded the conversations, that shouldn’t have surprised him. If it was that Spicer was not outright denying the existence of such a tape, that shouldn’t have surprised him, either, and yet it seems to have done so.

If Wallace’s surprise had been at Trump’s threatening Comey on Twitter with releasing such a recording (whether or not it exists), that shouldn’t have surprised him, either. Disturbed him, yes. Surprised him, no.

On the other hand, let’s say just for the sake of argument that the reports from the Comey camp about what transpired between Trump and Comey are lies to make Trump’s behavior look much worse than it was. How could those lies be countered? In other words, what recourse does a president have if he/she is being lied about? I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here; I’m just wondering.

27 Responses to “Trump and the tapes”

  1. Cornhead Says:

    “We obviously didn’t record private meetings.” Ben Rhodes.

    We are supposed to believe Ben Rhodes? The guy who gave us the Iran deal? Who lied and lied about that. Or what about Obama? “If you like your doctor…..”

    THE news is that Obama recorded conversations in the Oval. And it was secret. Bowden had NO idea he was being recorded. That’s why he brought his own tape recorder.

    The is BIG NEWS.

  2. Cornhead Says:

    And Comey surely knew Obama had bugged his own White House.

    I DEMAND that the NYT and WaPo investigate Obama.

  3. Griffin Says:

    ‘Let me just pause for a moment and say how sick and tired of the news I am these days’

    Yep, me too. Everything Trump does is the most outrageously outrageous thing ever that has never been done before in all of time. Except until we find out that actually it’s happened many times before and probably isn’t really that outrageous a lot of times.

    I’m finding myself paying less and less attention to the news and when I do I automatically assume what I’m hearing is misleading at best and a plain old lie at worst. Seen some reports about how this Comey thing hasn’t been the viral outrage that the media wanted and I think that is partly because people are all outraged out after the last dozen outrages of the last six months or so.

  4. Manju Says:

    Look, if it turns out Donald Trump’s net-worth is zero and he owes billions to a Russian hedge fund, I’d be slack-jawed gobsmacked like there was no tomorrow.

    But I’d be simultaneously unsurprised. Given what we know of his business practices: scams like Trump U and his charity, being a deadbeat toward vendors, past falsehoods regarding his net-worth, his corporate bankruptcies, his failure to disclose his tax records, etc…I shouldn’t be surprised.

    But I still would be…though certainly not as much if it were Warren Buffett. I guess one can suspect something of someone…in this case I suspect Trump is more Bernie Madoff than Warren Buffett…while simultaneously feeling shocked to see these suspicions come to fruition.

    I gather the journalists in question are shocked to see a sitting president threaten a former FBI director who he just fired, even though they “knew” Trump was capable of doing it all along.

  5. Ann Says:

    It’s all show biz, and that’s on both sides.

  6. Bill Says:

    How could those lies be countered? In other words, what recourse does a president have if he/she is being lied about? I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here; I’m just wondering.

    You counter the lies with character. The reason believe anything and everything about Trump is because he has cr@p character and its hard to not believe he’s capable of almost anything.

    For example, it was a lot easier to believe that Bill Clinton had a sexual affair with an intern than it would have been to believe that about GWB or Obama.

    Easier to believe that HRC had profanity-laced screaming fits than to believe that about, say, Nancy Reagan

    So when something comes out about Trump being dishonest, or pulling a con, or being a vicious bully, it doesn’t take much of a stretch to think “maybe so”, because he’s got a long, long history of that kind of behavior.

    It may be unfair at times, but if you have bad character and a history of bad behavior people aren’t going to give you the benefit of the doubt as much.

    Character matters

    Character is destiny

  7. neo-neocon Says:


    I agree, except for one thing—if Trump was of impeccable character (e.g. Cruz), it would still be happening, and lots of people would believe it. We’ve seen that happen.

  8. steve walsh Says:

    I’m not an expert in the area of psychology, so this is from my rather amateur (some might say arm chair) perspective: there is something seriously wrong with these people; their wiring is faulty. Trump is simply the catalyst that makes it manifest itself such that we can all see it.

  9. Mike K Says:

    Trump haters are an interesting phenomenon. I understand it in Democrats. After all, they lost big.

    I can understand it in Republican politicians because Trump is taking aim at what has been called The Deep State, which I think of as the bureaucracy and lobbyist class, centered in Washington.

    The rest are a puzzle. Is it his manner ? He certainly is more open than what we are used to in presidents. Nobody knew about Eisenhower’s terrible temper or of JFK’s girls.

    All the stuff about lies and being “a vicious bully” seems beyond rational comment.

    It’s just interesting.

  10. Harry the Extremist Says:

    I remember when “character matters” was the conservative drone during the Clinton 90’s. Seems we moved off that, much to my disappointment.

    Yes, a Cruz or a Rubio would have reaped their own stinking brown piles of “progressive” pleasantries, but they probably wouldnt have gleefully looked as though it fit them.

  11. parker Says:

    IMO Cruz as POTUS would make the left even more moonbat than djt. Cruz would have hit the ground running and broke a lot of rice bowls by now.


    I agree that djt’s responsible for his problems. His personality is weird and over the top. But, he is POTUS, has made a few good moves, and has the left demonstrating just how far they are from the center. We’ll see.

  12. J.J. Says:

    parker: “I agree that djt’s responsible for his problems. His personality is weird and over the top. ”

    I disagree. Trump is an alpha male New Yorker. His type of personality is easily observed in Manhattan brokerage firms, law firms, real estate development firms and other high powered businesses. We are so used to seeing professional politicians in action (Buttoned up, carefully briefed, poll tested, and devious.) that we just aren’t used to someone like Trump who is in your face, self assured (Some would say cocky), unfiltered, and not a man of letters (Some would say he doesn’t have much book learning).What he does has served him well in a hard-nosed career in real estate and reality TV. What’s interesting to me is that the blue collar workers are his biggest supporters. He speaks their language, not ours.

    I’m turned off by many facets of his personality, but I don’t let that get in the way of my humble opinion that he is far, far better for the country than Hillary.

    Also, IMHO, his warning to Comey about possible taping was a way to keep Comey and the MSM from spreading false info about their conversations. It’s too bad he has to do it, but that is the tenor of the times.

  13. Mike K Says:

    I agree with JJ. Trump is not like any politician I’ve seen or even heard of before. I’m reading a biography of James K Polk and Trump really is a lot like Jackson. Jackson was a military guy but those were the days of Indian wars and not grand strategy.

  14. parker Says:


    Well I have spent very little time in NYC brokerage firms, etc. So I’ll take your word that Trump’s behavior is typical Manhattan alpha male behavior. We have alpha males in flyover country, but their dads and moms raised them to be polite in their alphaness. I am a bit alpha, but would not after all these years embarrass my dearly departed mother. 😉

  15. Lizzy Says:

    I am also tired of the press making every thing Trump does, says, or tweets a scandal. Trump is far from perfect, but this intentional strategy of theirs to so flood the zone with Trump scandal news is dangerous. Not only is it crowding out legitimate non-Trump centered news, it is muddying the water if/when Trump does something legitimately scandalous, illegal, or unconstitutional (he’s got 4 years to mess up, and like all presidents, he will).

    How will we know when something is amiss? We’re so overwhelmed from 24×7 coverage of the latest snark tweet, him being served *an extra scoop if ice cream* or the WH press Secretary mangling a statement on Hitler, will anyone pay attention to it? The press tells us they are the check on power, but their attempt to unseat a sitting president by declaring him unfit every dang day jettisons all credibility. Worse, they’re riling some people up to such a degree that they feel compelled to act, such as the man who attacked Rep. Kramer (R- N Dakota) at a townhall, or the woman who tried to run Rep. Kustoff (R-TN) off the road. This will not end well.

  16. Griffin Says:


    It’s just a matter of time before someone is killed at some college protest or townhall event or something. I think I agree with Limbaugh’s theory that it is the media driving the Democrats opposition here more than the party itself and that leads to the whipping into a frenzy that is bound to turn tragic eventually. And of course when that happens whose fault will it be? Trump, of course!

  17. Lizzy Says:

    Yes, Griffin, they will blame Trump for creating a “climate of hate” even though they are the ones ginning up the hatred of Trump, the GOP, and Trump voters.

    They’ve already laid the groundwork with the false narrative about hate crimes escalating since the election, when almost all (or all?) have been found to be hoaxes committed by people who wanted to slander Trump and those who voted for him.

  18. Big Maq Says:

    @JJ – there is a difference between being assertive and being like trump.

    Having spent some time around the executives of various client companies, across many cities (incl. NYC – though no brokerage or law firms, admittedly) – some very nice, some fist slamming on the table yellers. Each was able to be assertive in their own way.

    The ones (the very few) we had most trouble with were the liars, schemers, bullies, etc. – they come in both flavors and in variations in between.

    Our path to success was invariably being honest, forthright, and both tactically and strategically smart (e.g. trust but verify), and if it was just not going to work, we parted ways.

    Bottom Line: I don’t believe the generalization, as, when one gets past the style / assertiveness, it still comes down to character.

  19. Big Maq Says:

    “I agree, except for one thing—if Trump was of impeccable character (e.g. Cruz), it would still be happening, and lots of people would believe it. We’ve seen that happen.” – Neo

    We thought the left “lost it” under GWB. It sure seems a much different ballgame now, and it is not clear whatsoever that it would be so under any other GOP candidate, as they would be handling it all in a VERY different manner.

    With Cruz there would have been a much more cohesive front, a sounder strategy to get things done, anticipating hurdles from the left, and less opportunity for the left to score on.

    In a word – (an order of magnitude more) competence.

    trump invites and generates controversy, whether it serves a strategic purpose or not. He escalates. He feels compelled to be in the news regardless of the consequences – is he even considering the consequences, or is he just reacting to what his Id tells him at the moment?

    Could go on…but the point is made.

    People wanted a “fighter” and that’s what we have, and maybe all we have (he has some good cabinet picks, but remains to be seen if they will be listened to or overridden (thrown under the bus?).

    Too bad he is missing many of the other attributes we’d want in a conservative leader, including a (largely) conservative philosophy.

  20. parker Says:

    Big Maq,

    The bottom line is do you honor your word/hand shake and do you treat others, even those you disagree with, with respect, until they demonstrate they deserve no respect.

    I have no problem with djt acting ‘unpresidential’. My problem with Trump is how he acts unpresidential. He is like Popeye, he is what he yam and thats all that he yam. Not to my liking for sure. But he is what we have. As long as he does not go full Ivanka, I will make allowances.

    Pssst…. I expect that to happen before his 365th day. But don’t tell Cornhead.

  21. Liz Says:

    I read that someone has a seven day rule of waiting for things to flare up and then die down before they figure out what really happened.

    I am going to the WH website to read the statements, press meetings, EA and all that stuff. Less stressful than listening to all of the talking heads talking over each other.

  22. AesopFan Says:

    steve walsh Says:
    May 13th, 2017 at 5:07 pm
    I’m not an expert in the area of psychology, so this is from my rather amateur (some might say arm chair) perspective: there is something seriously wrong with these people; their wiring is faulty. Trump is simply the catalyst that makes it manifest itself such that we can all see it.
    ** *
    Comments I found here:

    amwick | May 13, 2017 at 11:30 am
    Ok, everybody gets two scoops… Many people, for whatever reason only really want one, waistline, sugar, dairy, who knows?… Many, many scoops remain uneaten, Trump and his staff are reported for wanton waste of taxpayer ice cream. Either way, MSM creates headlines against President Trump.

    nordic_prince | May 13, 2017 at 12:27 pm
    Aren’t we fortunate to be living at a time when the MSM have the courage and tenacity to perform intrepid reporting such as this. We can now sleep safely at night knowing that the media are on top of these vitally important situations that threaten the very fabric of society.


    DouglasJBender | May 13, 2017 at 4:12 pm
    One screen, two screens, CNN screams about ice cream.

  23. AesopFan Says:

    While we’re on the subject of hidden tapes:

    “Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) earlier this week revealed that another senator had told him that he was surveilled by the Obama administration.
    “I know one other senator who’s already confided to me that he was surveilled by the Obama administration, including his phone calls,” he told Fox News on Wednesday.

    “So when this all comes out, if there are political figures from the opposition party, it’s a story bigger than any of the allegations with regard to Russian collusion,” he said.

    Earlier this month, Paul announced that sources have told him that he has been surveilled by the Obama administration, and that he has requested information from the White House and the congressional intelligence committees on whether he has ever been surveilled, unmasked, or searched for in intelligence reports.”

  24. AesopFan Says:

    When do tapes become a problem?
    Only when conservatives see them.

    “The short version of Andy Ngo’s story is that he recorded the discussion by a Muslim student at an interfaith panel of the thorny question whether a sharia state can allow non-Muslims to live there in peace; i.e., unmolested. The question came from the audience, and was based on a Quranic sura about the treatment of non-believers.

    At this point, Ngo got his smart phone camera going and recorded the next passage:

    And some, this, that you’re referring to, killing non-Muslims, that [to be a non-believer] is only considered a crime when the country’s law, the country is based on Koranic law — that means there is no other law than the Koran. In that case, you’re given the liberty to leave the country, you can go in a different country, I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. So you can go in a different country, but in a Muslim country, in a country based on the Koranic laws, disbelieving, or being an infidel, is not allowed so you will be given the choice [to leave].

    Ngo posted video clips of this interlude in a pair of tweets. Four days later, he was blindsided when his editor-in-chief called him in for a dressing down and a hearty firing. In the interim, Breitbart had picked up on his tweets, and had posted a story on the panel event.

    Moments after publishing the original video, I shared the tweet with the editor and a Vanguard reporter who was at the event. Neither of them expressed any outrage in response back then. The tweets apparently only became “predatory” and “reckless” when conservative sites picked up on them.”

    Emphasis in the original.

  25. Frog Says:

    The Dems have called themselves the “Resistance” as if Trump and the GOP in general were Nazis occupying France.
    They are flinging about the F word in public (see Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA). They deem flyover country as Podunk USA (the female Rep, a D, from Palo Alto). Theirs is a new religion featuring vulgarity, sex of any variety, blackness-is-better, extreme and distorted environmentalism, globalism, jailing of only political prisoners (not drug dealers), and authoritarianism. Their Gods are their leaders. Doubt is a sin.

    Being honorable has no place in combat when the enemy is trying to kill you by means fair and foul.

    I think Trump is the right personality in his job, compared to the alternatives. Cruz, my 2016 favorite, would have melted down by now. I just hope Trump avoids the temptation of appeasement of enemies domestic and foreign. That would be like drilling holes in the hull of the Ship of State to let out the water coming over the gunwales.

  26. parker Says:


    Very late back to the thread but if yiu imgaine Cruz would melt down at this stage, you are an idiot. You have to be cruel to be kind.

  27. Tatterdemalian Says:

    The real risk isn’t of Cruz “melting down,” but of “freezing up” like Dubya did after OIF, and both McCain and Romney did on the campaign trail.

    Letting the media just treat you like a Nazi-branded doormat isn’t the way to influence voters. Trolling them until they self-destruct, on the other hand, seems to be working great for Trump, at least as long as the media doesn’t fool anyone into thinking they’re not enemies of the very concept of liberty, just because they are such fierce defenders of liberty for themselves (but just as fierce opponents of their same liberties being granted to the deplorable untermensch).

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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