Remind them of Legal Obligation to Preserve Any Trump White House Tapes that Exist

In a letter sent to White House Counsel Donald McGahn, Democracy 21 reminded him that he is “obligated under the law to ensure that any White House tape recordings of President Trump’s conversations are preserved as evidence for potential criminal or congressional investigations.” 

Democracy 21 sent a similar letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

According to the letters to both officials:

Such investigations, including an investigation of whether President Trump has committed obstruction of justice, may be undertaken in light of the FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and the events over the last three months that ended with President Trumps’s recent firing of FBI Director James Comey.

The letters stated that a tweet by President Trump on May 12, 2017 “strongly implies that the White House has taped some or all of the President’s conversations, a fact that the White House has subsequently not denied.”

The McGahan and Rosenstein letters pointed out that President Richard Nixon regretted that he had not destroyed the Watergate tapes, after originally deciding to so. According to the letters:

In April 1973, as the Watergate crisis mounted and before the existence of his White House tapes was publicly revealed, President Richard Nixon agreed to have the tape recordings destroyed.  In a conversation with aide H.R. Haldeman on April 9, 1973, Nixon “agreed with Haldeman that they ought to ‘get rid’ of the recordings.” G. Lardner and W. Pincus, “Nixon Ordered Tapes Destroyed,” The Washington Post (October 30, 1997). 

However, he and Haldeman did not then act on the agreement. 

Nixon later regretted that he had not destroyed the White House tapes. According to a biography of Nixon by Evan Thomas, Being Nixon: A Man Divided, Random House (2015):

He would come to rue his decision not to destroy the tapes.  Indeed, he had second thoughts almost right away.  In the early hours of Thursday, July 19, he made a note on his bedside pad: “Should have destroyed the tapes after April 30, 1973.”  In early April, Nixon and Haldeman had discussed getting rid of all the tapes save the ones recording his major foreign policy decisions.  Distracted and caught up in Watergate, Nixon and Haldeman had not acted on this instinct.  By July 19, it was too late: The subpoenas from investigators had begun to arrive.

The letters concluded:

If as President Trump implied, White House tapes of President Trump’s conversations exist, it is your legal obligation to take all necessary steps to preserve those recordings as possible evidence in pending or future investigations.  

The nation was fortunate that President Nixon and his aides did not act on Nixon’s impulse to destroy tape recordings. They became crucial evidence in the Watergate investigations that led to the ultimate resignation of President Nixon.  

One of the lessons of Watergate is that any similar desire that President Trump might have to destroy White House tape recordings must be thwarted.   

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