Left-wing websites lit up on Thursday with reports that the White House did not release a readout of last Saturday’s phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin because West Wing tape recording devices were shut off.
But as with many knee-jerk reports that have marred the media landscape in recent weeks, the report is based on speculation from a “foreign policy insider” that appears to be false.
For one, the White House did release a readout of the phone call. On top of that, the White House has not systematically recorded presidential phone calls with foreign leaders since the days of Richard Nixon. The revelation in 2014 that Ronald Reagan recorded some phone calls with world leaders caused a stir because most thought the practice had ended.
The false claim about the readout and recording originated with Ilan Berman, the vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council.
Speaking on Wednesday at a forum hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Berman asserted that the White House did not produce a readout of the Trump-Putin phone call because “they turned the tape recorder off.”
“You always look for the readout of the phone call, whatever it is,” Berman said.
“Did you guys notice there was no American readout of the phone call? There was none. They turned the tape recorder off. There was a Russian readout of the phone call.”
Berman went on to say that Russia’s readout portrayed a positive conversation between Trump and Putin.
“The Russians think that the phone call went really well. The Russians think that there was an implicit grant of a recognition of spheres of influence,” he continued.
Left-wing websites like Raw Story and Daily Kos ran with Berman’s claims, referring to the think tank executive as a “foreign policy insider.” GQ put its own spin on the Raw Story report. The articles were shared on social media tens of thousands of times.
But Berman backed off of his claim on Thursday, saying that he did not “know for a fact” that the White House turned off its tape recorders.
“Was merely saying it was curious that a rec. didn’t seem to exist,” he tweeted.
And there’s good reason for why that may be: the White House, as has been the case for decades, does not record phone calls with foreign leaders.
The practice of U.S. presidents recording phone calls with foreign leaders largely ended with Nixon. That fact was mentioned in press reports in 2014 after presidential historian William Doyle received recordings of phone calls covertly recorded by Ronald Reagan.
“Until now, taping was thought to have stopped in the Nixon era. I discovered that was not the case,” Doyle told The New York Post.
The readout, which was released on Saturday, states that Trump “received a congratulatory call today from Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
It noted that the call lasted for approximately one hour and “ranged in topics from mutual cooperation in defeating ISIS to efforts in working together to achieve more peace throughout the world including Syria.”
The readout characterized the call as “positive.”
“Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today’s call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern,” it concludes.