President Donald Trump is upset that his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, released a secretly-recorded tape of a conversation in which the two men are heard discussing a potential payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claims to have had an affair with Trump before he was president.
The tape was seized by the FBI during raids on Cohen’s residence and office in April as part of a larger investigation by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Trump says he did nothing wrong and also has questioned the legality of both the raids and the tape, writing: “Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) – almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client – totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. Sad.”
Other than the moral aspect, I am not sure Trump did anything wrong. After all, he had already paid off stripper Stormy Daniels, with whom he had had a one-night stand.
And as far as legality of the taping goes, in New York state it is legal to tape a conversation if one of the people involved in the conversation knows it is being recorded.
One of Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, has claimed that the conversation between Trump and Cohen could come under the umbrella of lawyer-client privilege but CNN reported that Trump’s legal team had waived privilege.
I have found this debate interesting because I have taped interviews, conducted both on the phone and in person, from the time I was first able to get my hands on a recorder.
There is no better way of providing accuracy and this goes to both parties involved in the conversation. The tape recorder doesn’t lie.
As an interviewer, I like to tape because it allows me to nail down quotes exactly as said, something I never managed to do by simply taking notes, even though in my days as a reporter I had taken a course in speedwriting.
And a tape is a great arbiter of disputes.
Bill Hawrelak, who had been mayor of Edmonton twice before and had been turfed from office both times because of court rulings of impropriety while in office, was running again in 1974 during my tenure as city editor of The Edmonton Journal.
Hawrelak was no fan of the paper, accusing it of running a smear campaign,
The paper had published an editorial citing Hawrelak’s resignation from the mayor’s office following a 1959 judicial inquiry that found him guilty of “gross misconduct”and also had devoted almost two full pages to recount the decision in full. The editorial also mentioned Hawrelak’s disqualification from the mayor’s job in 1965 because of land transactions while in office following his re-election in 1963.
One morning during the election campaign in 1974, which he won again as voters ignored his wrongdoings of the past, he stormed into The Journal’s office, complaining that he was misquoted in our story on the previous night’s election debate.
The managing editor ordered us to stop the press and change our story, using Hawrelak’s new words.
Our reporter, who was unavailable at the time as he was on his way to work, pulled out his tape recorder when he was questioned about his story upon arrival.
We had to stop the press again and go back to the original story because the only misquote was in what Hawrelak had told the managing editor. The tape backed up the reporter’s version of events.
Shortly after I arrived as editor of The Sault Star, reporter Dave Groff informed me of a conversation he had had with a councillor, at the time under the title of alderman, complaining about a story Groff had written in which the councillor was quoted. The councillor was claiming misquote.
Groff said the conversation came to an abrupt end when he asked the councillor if he would like to hear the tape.
“You taped that,” he said the councillor said before hanging up.
He said he was telling me the story so I would know the background in the event the councillor called to complain about the taping.
I had a similar incident with an irate member of the Catholic school board shortly after The Sault Star moved into its new building.
“You’re taping this,” he said somewhat incredulously before abruptly hanging up.
I’ve never been able to figure out why some people aren’t prepared to carry on with an interview once they know it is being taped. They don’t seem to understand that the tape is as much a protection for them as it is for the interviewer.
Surely they aren’t going to say something different when they are not being taped to what they would say when they are on tape. Surely the truth should be spoken in both instances.
In watching the movies All the President’s Men, about the Watergate affair that brought down President Richard Nixon, and Spotlight, which uncovered the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests in the Boston area, I was surprised in both instances about the reliance by the reporters and editors on “verbatim notes” taken by hand rather than by a tape recorder.
But Massachusetts apparently is one of 11 states that require all parties in a conversation agree to the taping of it. However, the District of Columbia, like the state of New York, has a “one-party consent” wiretapping law.
Canada follows the “one-party consent” rule, meaning it is legal to record your own conversations, whether they are had on the telephone or in person.
It is, of course, illegal to record a conversation of which you are not a part.
I don’t believe anyone should be afraid of being involved in a conversation that is being taped unless, of course, they have something to hide.
And whether they have or not, that will be the lingering suspicion if and when a denial to talk results from the knowledge the conversation is to be taped.
Those who have control of their thoughts and mouths should have no fear of having their conversations taped.
That, of course, is probably why Trump, who has no control of either, is railing against it.