President Trump’s warning to ex-FBI director Comey, about the possibility that the White House might have secretly taped their conversations, has set loose a firestorm of speculation from our instant historians.
It appears that those analysts have only one place to go in finding a precedent for such activity: the evil specter of President Nixon and Watergate.
But is it only Nixon at whom our pundits might be looking? A multiple-choice question might edify the matter. Which other presidents, besides Trump, might have engaged in secretly taping their official conversations?
- Abe Lincoln
- Dick Nixon
Lincoln was a Republican. Academic research in recent years has identified him as a “white man’s” president, with anti-abolitionist and even pro-slavery inclinations. But we can’t blame Lincoln in regard to secret recordings because –as even our media experts are likely to know– tape-recording techniques were not available in Lincoln’s time.
By FDR’s presidency, tape-recording was an established if not a widespread technique. But he, as well as JFK later on, were Democratic Party icons; and it’s common knowledge that Democrats do not make a habit of surreptitiously recording the conversations of others. That leaves poor old Nixon, who has borne the brunt of our journalists’ backward glance through presidential history. But what about this note, from a source whose knowledge of presidential history cannot be impeached?
“In fact, it is now known that some taping was done by every president from Franklin D. Roosevelt through Richard M. Nixon. Hundreds of hours of tapes have been declassified, the vast majority from the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.”
The note from the JFK library continues: “There is no definitive answer to the question of why President Kennedy installed the first practical White House taping system.” But the fact remains. If our commentators were being fair or capable, would they not include the fact that surreptitious taping is a part of the modern presidency–not a sign of coups d’état or fascism?
And it’s not just media pundits, either. Virginia’s Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, has said darkly that secret recordings by presidents do not typically lead to a “good outcome.”
Really? What about JFK recording high-level deliberations during the Cuban missile crisis, when no one else in the room knew that recorders were running? Obviously, had others known, the conversations would not have turned out as they did. In the event, those conversations led to the definitive triumph of Cold War U.S. policy.
Not only that; the tapes later played an indispensable role in building the public record of what had happened. Is it possible that Senator Warner is ignorant of those tapes? Or is he willfully forgetting them? What about all those wiseguys in the media?
Once more, this time for keeps: the tape machine is a standard accoutrement of the modern presidency. Media experts and members of Congress–or those who have been talking trash in this matter–should earn their keep in better ways.
David Landau is a Daily Caller contributor. @pureplayed