I think Allahpundit has provided enough coverage of sh*tholepalooza to allow us to skip the details here this weekend. But one of the President’s tweets providing his “kind of, sort of” denial of comments made during that meeting should open the door to a wider conversation. President Trump once again suggested that perhaps there should be tapes of all conversations inside the White House so we don’t get into all of these endless arguments about who said what to whom.
Time Magazine has a history of covering this topic and they were once again compelled to weigh in this week, suggesting that running a taping operation in and around the Oval Office might be more complicated than Trump thinks. Unfortunately, this advice is based on a couple of assumptions which could be easily eliminated. Also, the ancient history they refer to doesn’t really match up with the realities of 2018 and beyond.
But, as TIME reported last year when the President appeared to imply that there might be secret recordings of his meetings with former FBI director James Comey, there’s a good reason why such recordings (especially if they’re made in secret) are no longer the norm for U.S. Presidents.
You can read that piece or the one from last year having to do with the Comey conversations, but Time’s analysis all comes down to one thing: Watergate. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with that infamous period of presidential history, Time takes you for a nice walk down memory lane. But as far as the “challenges” of recording conversations in the White House, the only real problem we need to be concerned about is the fact that Nixon did it secretly.
Every argument they make in advising caution can be solved with one relatively quick and inexpensive step. Put a big sign up outside the Oval Office and any other spaces where executive branch folks are having meetings saying that all meetings are being video and audio taped, with public release of such tapes being possible at the discretion of the President if the contents don’t endanger national security. The upside to this should outweigh the downside by such a wide margin that it’s pretty much a no-brainer.
So many of these he said – she said stories like the ongoing “sh*thole” argument come to us in the media from “a source familiar with the conversation.” On rare occasions (including this one), you’ll get an actual Senator or congressman who was in the meeting to step in front of the camera and report what they heard or said themselves. If the President denies it or tells a different story, he can simply opt to have his secretary excerpt that portion of the meeting on the tape and send it off to the press corps. Problem solved. If the President is telling the truth he will be vindicated. If those accusing him demand the tape be released and the President demures, you’ll be able to draw some fairly solid conclusions from that as well.
So what’s the downside? I suppose you might argue that tapes (or at least allegations of things which would show up on the tapes) will be leaked to the press even more. But so what? At this point, there’s basically nothing going on inside White House that doesn’t result in somebody dashing off to make a call to a reporter at the first opportunity anyway. Are we worried that people will be less frank and forthcoming in what they say to the President if they know they’re being taped? Assuming it’s not a subject impacting national security, so what? You’re doing the people’s business.
Perhaps you’re worried that the opposing teams in Congress will be less willing to even discuss a deal in a meeting with the President for fear of a tape of their suggestion getting back to their base. It’s a fair point, but it’s also not like there’s much deal-making going on anyway these days. Plus, this could create a sort of Russian roulette situation in terms of making deals. If both sides know that the tapes exist, each will be less likely to talk out of school about it.
Providing no taping is being done without the meeting participants’ knowledge, it’s tough to see what there is to lose here. Set up some security cameras and get rolling. You might even force a bit more civility into the national debate. And when people (including the President) know they’re being recorded, they might hesitate before firing off too many incendiary comments.