The Administration

The Feds have ‘Trump tapes’ akin to Nixon’s ‘Watergate tapes’

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With President Trump acting increasingly like former President Nixon during the Watergate scandal coverup, there is one similarity between the two scandals that is not receiving the media attention it deserves.

During the Watergate scandal, Nixon had a taping system installed in the Oval Office, recording conversations he had there. These tapes revealed wrongdoing with recorded proof beyond all reasonable doubt.

{mosads}During the Russia scandal that plagues the Trump presidency, there are also large numbers of recorded conversations that provide the equivalent of the Watergates tapes. I call them “Trump tapes”, which were legally recorded by counter-intelligence and law enforcement authorities for legitimate security and law enforcement purposes.

The eavesdropping that created these tapes was originally aimed against foreign individuals with interests that are are hostile to America, including Russian targets. The tapes would include every mention by foreign intelligence targets of every individual associated with Trump with whom they spoke.

After the Nixon tapes became public, they were used as evidence and compiled into volumes of reading material and audio recordings that remain available for listening today. Imagine if the Trump tapes that exist today are someday made public! At least some of them will probably become public, used in court proceedings or by congressional investigating committees.

To understand the potential political and legal time bombs that might be out there, consider the following: Every time we read a public name of a Russian individual who had some contact with anyone associated with Trump, from Russian government officials or shady characters with ties to Russian intelligence, there is an above-average probability that their conversations were recorded and emails were monitored.

When “Russian A” talked to “Russian B” about “Trump associate C”, if that conversation was recorded, it would reveal information about what Trump associate C was saying or doing.

Similarly, when Russian A (who was under surveillance) talked directly to Trump associate C (who was not), that conversation was recorded incidental to the eavesdropping on the Russian. If that conversation revealed that there was probable cause that the Trump associate was engaging in some form of wrongdoing, there could have been a warrant approved to eavesdrop on that Trump associate directly.

Let’s take one publicly known example: It appears from public sources that when retired General Michael Flynn talked with the Russian ambassador, some or all of those conversations were recorded. We do not know exactly what was said, but the tapes will tell the story. How, if at all, was President Trump mentioned?

There is a second level of information that would comprise the Trump tapes. The Russian ambassador would report to Moscow his version of exactly what was said, as he usually would for all meetings he considered important, including meetings that are not public information today.

Every time there is news about another associate of Trump having contact with another Russian who is under surveillance, there are probably direct conversations between them that would be part of the Trump tapes. Those Russians would “report back home” to other Russians, describing their conversations, adding to the volume of the Trump tapes.

Consider three key factor surrounding this body of evidence:

First, there would be eavesdropping against hostile foreign actors representing a wide range of players, including Russia, China and other nations with ties to espionage against America or other crimes.

Second, considering the strangely long list of Trump associates who have had business interests or contact with people having Russian ties, there is probably a substantial number of recordings when we add them all up!

Third, as I mentioned in my most recent op-ed in The Hill, the Russians know everything about every contact of a Trump associate with every actor working for Russia. For practical purposes, there are probably two sets of Trump tapes in existence, one possessed by American authorities, the other possessed by Russian authorities. Either Russian or American actors could choose to leak, disclose or otherwise weaponize this information.

It is 100-percent certain, based on public sources, that some form of Trump tapes exist. We do not know exactly how many tapes the Feds have, or exactly what they would prove if disclosed.

I suspect there are some very nervous people in Washington today, who worry about exactly what those tapes would prove. The firing of a prosecutor is not the only analogy between Watergate and the Russia investigations today. Let’s keep our eye on the tale of the tapes. 

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then-chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Contributors and reached at

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Donald Trump Donald Trump Donald Trump presidential campaign Nixon White House tapes Politics of the United States Russia Watergate scandal Wiretapping

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