Should All Political Meetings Be Taped?

by Charles C. W. Cooke

I have been wondering of late if there is a good case for taping all political meetings. I can’t know for sure what Trump said in yesterday’s confab — although, given that there were Republicans there too, and they haven’t pushed back, it seems highly unlikely that Dick Durbin or the Washington Post are making it up — and, if he said what he seems to have said, I certainly have no intention of defending it (I agree with Ramesh). Either way, I think it would be useful to have a tape that could be released if the details of a given meeting are disputed.

In theory, we draw a clear distinction between public and private political meetings. And for good reason. Trump aside, it’s important for our representatives to be able to bat around ideas, to negotiate, to ask questions, to play hardball, to be blunt, and so forth, and to do so without being heard or taken out of context. Just as in, say, a big company, details tend to be hammered out behind closed doors, and agreements tend to be announced in public. It is tough to deliberate in front of the cameras. 

In practice, though, there is no such thing as a private meeting any more; habitual leaking has taken care of that. The result is the worst of both worlds. Those who are in the meetings cannot take advantage of the promise of off-the-record conversation, given the ever-present threat of publication. And those who are outside are never entirely sure what has happened. It seems almost certain that President Trump said what he is being accused of having said. But if you don’t want to believe it, you have an easy out. A mutually agreed-to recording is impossible to wave away; attenuated sourcing and post hoc guesswork is not, especially when there are different versions and when the source of the quote issues a denial. Is it time to roll the tapes?

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