White House tapes

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The White House tapes are audio recording made of Presidential conversations for historic or political purposes. With limited exceptions such recordings are the property of the federal government and are treated as federal records which the United States archives make available at Presidential libraries. In 1974, passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act that designated tapes made at Presidential meetings and phone conversations as presidential records that must be preserved in federal archives.[1]

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first President to record conversations in 1940.[2]

There is no indication that Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, or George W. Bush secretly taped their meetings or conversations. "Most presidents after Nixon were skittish to do much taping," said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.[1]

John F. Kennedy

In July 1962, John F. Kennedy had the Secret Service secretly record certain meetings and conversations. Hidden microphones were installed in the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room and the private study in his quarters. Kennedy could activate the recorders by pressing a button on his desk or at his place in the Cabinet Room. The Secret Service used Tandberg reel-to-reel tape recorders that were provided by the U.S. Army Signal Corps.[3] The tapes are stored and made available through the Kennedy Presidential Library. The tapes cover about 260 hours of meetings from July 1962 to November 8, 1963.

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson began recording conversations while serving in the United States Senate. As president, he had hidden microphones installed in the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room and in the little lounge located just off the Oval Office. He also had recording machines attached to his phone lines. These recording systems were activated by buttons on his Oval Office desk and near in chair in the other rooms.[4] About 800 hours of tapes are in the Johnson Presidential Library.

Although his practice of recording conversations was not generally known during his life, his Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy probably suspected that he was recording their meetings. On some occasions, Kennedy brought a briefcase to their meetings which had the effect of jamming the recording system. The tapes of those meetings just had a buzzing sound.[4]

In February 1989, C-SPAN radio began airing the LBJ Tapes.[5]

Richard Nixon

Upon taking office in January 1969, Richard Nixon ordered the Johnson taping system removed.[6] Nixon had a recording system installed in February 1971. A sound-activated taping system was first installed in the Oval Office, including in Nixon's Oval Office desk, using Sony TC-800B open-reel tape recorders[7] to capture audio transmitted by telephone taps and concealed microphones.[6] The system was subsequently expanded to include other rooms within the White House and Camp David.[6] The recording system was turned off on July 18, 1973, two days after it was disclosed at the Senate Watergate Committee hearings.[6]

Nixon's refusal of a congressional subpoena to release the tapes was included as a basis for impeaching Nixon, and led to his subsequent resignation on August 9, 1974.[8]

Donald Trump

The White House has not announced a policy on recording meetings or phone calls. On May 12, 2017 President Trump suggested that his meetings with FBI Director James Comey were recorded.[9]

image of tweet

After his tweet, Trump refused to confirm or deny that he has been taping his meetings.[1] On May 12, 2017, Reps. John Conyers and Elijah Cummings, both Democrats, requested copies of any such recordings from the White House counsel.[1] On May 12, 2017, Adam Schiff, the ranking members of the House Intelligence Committee demanded that Trump either hand over the tapes or "admit, once again, to have made a deliberately misleading — and in this case threatening — statement".[10] Over the next six weeks, the White House press office,[11] the White House Counsel, the Secret Service,[12] and Congressional staff spend hours discussing and trying to establish whether or not a White House taping system had been installed and whether President Trump had recorded his conversations with Comey.[13] On June 22, 2017, President Trump tweeted that he did not record the Comey meetings or conversations.[14] However, his tweet was carefully worded to not answer the question about whether other White House meetings or conversations were being recorded.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "No one knows if Trump is making White House recordings -- and Trump won't say", CNN, May 12, 2017. Retrieved on May 14, 2017. 
  2. Bennetts, Leslie. "SECRET OVAL OFFICE RECORDINGS BY ROOSEVELT IN '40 DISCLOSED", January 14, 1982. Retrieved on May 12, 2017. 
  3. Kennedy Secret White House Recordings: Collection Specifications. Retrieved on May 14, 2017.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Johnson Secret White House Recordings: Collection Specifications. Retrieved on May 21, 2017.
  5. Milestones. Retrieved on May 14, 2017.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "The Nixon White House Tapes", August 15, 2016. Retrieved on May 14, 2017. 
  7. Nixon White House Tape Recorders. Retrieved on May 12, 2017.
  8. Nixon impeachment articles. Retrieved on May 12, 2017.
  9. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/863007411132649473
  10. "Schiff demands Trump turn over Comey 'tapes'", Politico, May 12, 2015. Retrieved on June 22, 2017. 
  11. "Sean Spicer won't deny Trump is recording private White House conversations, including with Comey", Business Insider, May 12, 2017. Retrieved on June 25, 2017. 
  12. "The Latest: Secret Service says it has no Trump tapes", Associated Press, June 13, 2017. Retrieved on June 23, 2017. 
  13. "Trump’s bluff on White House tapes wasn’t just dishonest — it was also a failure", Washington Post, June 22, 2017. Retrieved on June 23, 2017. 
  14. "Six-week ‘tapes’ saga comes to a very un-Trumpian end", Politico, June 22, 2017. Retrieved on June 23, 2017.