Presidents on Tape: Oh the Things You’ll Hear.
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In the wake of former FBI director James Comey’s recent testimony, as well as the “celebration” of the 45th anniversary of the Watergate break-in this month, presidents taping their conversations has become a hot topic. In predictable fashion, our president sent out a tweet regarding a conversation he had with Comey where he and the former FBI director differ greatly on the substance of the subject matter. Trump tweeted out a very lightly veiled threat at Mr. Comey. Trump, in claiming that his version of the conversation was the accurate one, tweeted that Comey had better hope that their conversation wasn’t taped. Trump seemed to be intimating that he had tapes of his conversation with Comey, and that the release of these tapes would be potentially embarrassing for “Big Jim.”
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Did the president tape his conversation with former FBI Director James Comey? Trump seems to be suggesting that he did, but so far he has hedged when it comes to answering precisely whether he did or didn’t. Comey doesn’t seem overly concerned. (You Tube)
If Trump did in fact tape record his conversations with Comey, or anybody else for that matter, he would hardly be the first president to have done so. In fact, several recent presidents have taped their conversations with associates and others, and many of those are finally becoming available for public consumption.
In fact, in light of what is becoming a very scandal ridden Trump White House, there has been a whole new emphasis on what exactly presidents have said in private, and to whom they have said these things to. This becomes especially relevant when the possibility of impeachment rears its ugly head. People are going to want to know what the president knew, and when he knew it…whatever “it” is?(Not since the halcyon days of the Watergate investigation has the idea of “taping” been such a popular topic. One key difference in this scandal compared to Watergate, the phrase, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” does not sound very, oh what’s the word? Nixonian? You Tube)
Which president was the first to tape record conversations in the White House? Most people believe it was John F. Kennedy, but it was actually Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt became enraged over what he believed was a deliberate lie on behalf of the New York Times. (Roosevelt didn’t dare call it the “Failing New York Times” since it was the Depression, and the country could ill afford one more business failure.) Unfortunately, the standard dictation device of the time had a very limited capacity of 10 minutes of recording time, as well as a microphone of dubious quality. A superior recording device was made available to FDR, and he used it to record his press conferences during the challenging reelection campaign of 1940. After that, he never used it again.
President Dwight Eisenhower installed a listening device in 1953. “Ike” could turn on the recorder from his desk, and it was hidden inside a fake telephone. Again, the device had a limited amount of space for recording, only about 15 minutes worth. Ironically, Eisenhower’s vice-president, Richard Nixon, would have been exposed to the idea of a president using a tape recording device, provided he had ever been invited to the White House by Ike.
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FDR demanded accuracy from those who covered him, particularly when it came to his beloved stamp collection. (Getty Images)
It was John F. Kennedy however who would be the first president to make real use of a recording device. Kennedy, like Roosevelt was concerned that the people he spoke to in private would actually say the same things in public. Of course, this is the crux of the Comey/Trump debate, so Kennedy was probably smart to be concerned with this matter.
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They say that if you play the “JFK Tapes” backwards, you can hear women leaving the room first, and then coming in a few minutes later…cause you know that Kennedy kept pretty busy with the ladies. Just sayin. (Getty Images)
JFK most famously used the practice of taping to record meetings revolving around the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy, obviously understanding the gravity of the situation, had his meetings with his national security advisors taped. (He probably also realized that if the world ended up being blown to smithereens, it would be nice to leave a historical account of the event so whichever alien civilization happened upon the ashes of our world, they would have an idea of who “screwed the pooch,” and drove us into oblivion.) The 13 days of the crisis which brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation were recorded by Kennedy, and in the tapes, you can hear the intense pressure that our leadership was under as it attempted to get the Soviets to remove their missiles without the U.S. giving up too much leverage in Berlin or Turkey, while also avoiding World War III.
This primary source account of the crisis provides us with an incredible look at how decisions are made in the White House, and how presidential leadership works. (Or at least how it used to work.) The military leaders can be heard advising the president to do what it does best which is to use our military firepower to neutralize this brazen threat put forth by Khrushchev and the Soviets. However, Kennedy, with the help of his brother Bobby, the attorney general, as well as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara were able to find a third option that provided for the removal of the missiles, while allowing the United States to appear to have won the standoff.
(It’s incredible that no matter where you work, as soon as the boss leaves the room, the sniping and criticism begins. You can hear Kennedy’s dissatisfaction with the military option and the military just itching to show what it can do. (You Tube)
The tapes demonstrate what the role of the president and his advisors should be. The president is provided with information from his trusted cabinet members, and he then asks them questions forcing them to clarify and defend their positions. Finally, everybody leaves the room, and the president has to make that loneliest of decisions.
Kennedy however sought other opinions as well, including those of former president Dwight Eisenhower. Even though JFK had attacked “Ike’s” leadership during the campaign of 1960, he also understood that there were things that Eisenhower knew as a former president, that nobody else in the world could. JFK demonstrated that it is not a form of “weakness” to seek out the opinions of your political rivals, especially when the future of the planet is a stake.
(I wonder when the last time Trump dialed up either Bush, Clinton, or Obama for counsel. By the way, Clinton used to reach out to Nixon for foreign policy advice. You Tube)
Other than Nixon, no president was as fascinating to listen to than Lyndon Johnson. Johnson was the consummate politician who loved spending his time glad-handing, provoking, arm-twisting, back-slapping, and basically perfecting the art of manipulating all of the people around him. The tapes of Johnson speaking to everybody from his tailor to Bobby Kennedy reveal a coarse, but slick salesman who knew how to get what he wanted from people either by use of the carrot or the stick.
(Lyndon Johnson utilizing his infamous “Johnson Treatment.” There’s no available documentation on whether he used the “Johnson Treatment” on Lady Bird. But I assure you nobody had more faith in their “Johnson,” then LBJ. You Tube)
Johnson could also be one of the least couth individuals to ever hold public office. He was known for having a foul-mouth, and a less than formal way of speaking. While Harry Truman could be blunt and harsh, Johnson was more like that dirty uncle who embarrassed you in front of your friends. Let’s just put it this way, when Air Force One landed. The pilot exclaimed, “The Eagle has landed…and the president’s bunghole needs room!”
(The most difficult job in the United States? President. The second most difficult? Mayor of New York City. The third? Being Lyndon Johnson’s tailor. By the way, what you don’t hear on the phone is when the president hung up, the tailor sang, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many pants you need today?” You tube)
Of course, the gold standard of embarrassing presidential taping episodes belonged to none other than Richard Nixon. Nixon took heat from friends and enemies alike due to the fact that he decided to tape his conversations. Nixon said years later that the only reason he taped his conversations was for historical purposes. However, the famously paranoid Nixon was more likely concerned with accuracy when it came to the press as well as his staff and cabinet members.
Nixon only allowed a few individuals in on the idea that they were being recorded. Nixon obviously never meant for any of these tapes to be released to the public, and he fought their release to his dying day. His closest advisor H.R. (Bob) Haldeman knew he was being taped, as did a handful of others, but most of his cabinet and advisors were unaware. However, it is Nixon alone who comes off as the racist, bitter, and petty despot, railing and plotting against enemies real and imagined.
(Firstly, it’s refreshing to hear what a wonderful guy old Donnie Rumsfeld is. We can’t thank Nixon and Ford enough for giving him access to the inner circles of power. As for Bob Haldeman, I wonder if he ever considered teaching a course on anthropology? He obviously possessed a stranglehold on genetic makeup. Regarding the question of Nixon, and his despicable statements regarding race and religion, should we condemn him as a hateful racist, or should we judge him by the times he grew up in and lived? You Tube)
There are many who broadcast on the endless loop of the 24-hour news cycle who like to claim that President Trump’s attack on the media is unprecedented. The fact that he has labeled the news as fake and an “enemy,” is a sign of how bad our politics have devolved. However, is Trump’s attack on the news truly unique and unprecedented? Let’s find out.
(Sounds like Trump has nothing on “Tricky Dick.” It is interesting to note that Nixon upon meeting Trump allegedly told him that he believed that one day he would be president. You Tube)
It was of course the White House taping system which ultimately doomed the Nixon presidency. The tapes provided the nation with the damning evidence that highlighted the complicity of President Nixon in all phases of the Watergate scandal. Everything from ordering the break-in, to the cover-up, to his attempt to obstruct the investigation were laid bare to an outraged citizenry.
Nixon did try to fight the release of the tapes, but the Supreme Court, including several judges who owed their seat on the bench to the Nixon White House, unanimously voted to order Nixon to turn over the tapes to Sam Ervin’s Senate committee. Nixon’s presidency would ultimately be doomed by his own secret recordings. Yes undone by his own taping device…and all of the laws he broke. You can’t forget about that.
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A somber Richard Nixon (Is there any other kind?) addresses the nation for the 37th time in order to inform his “fellow Americans” that he would be stepping down from the presidency. The idea that it was a sound practice for a president to record his conversations appears to have ended with the Nixon resignation. (You Tube)
If Donald Trump is being honest about having his conversation with James Comey taped, it would certainly clear up a lot of the chatter and speculation that has occurred as a result of the “he said, he said” that has divided the nation over who to believe, the president or the former FBI Director. Trump has promised that he has the tapes, and that he would release them soon. However, nobody else in the White House has been willing to back up his claim. My guess is, you’ll be waiting a long time before any tape of any conversation between Trump and Comey is released.
It’s actually a shame that we’ll never get to hear what actually transpired between the two men. A taped conversation reveals pure history unfolding before our eyes. There’s no spin or ideological interpretation. It’s raw information, and it doesn’t matter if you agree with it. There’s no “alternative facts,” just the old-fashioned kind, and that would be refreshing. Lordy, I hope there are tapes!