President Trump on Tuesday leveled a charge against the New York Times that was puzzling, on a number of levels.
The conversation to which Trump referred took place on Sunday, when Bob Corker, a Republican senator from Tennessee, told the Times that the president could be setting the United States “on the path to World War III” with reckless threats toward other countries. (Naturally, Trump thought the best way to quell Corker's concern about provoking “Little Rocket Man” was to give Corker a belittling nickname of his own.)
What, exactly, was Trump's point? Corker's sharp criticism would not have appeared in the Times if the call had not been recorded? Reporters do still have the ability to write things down, you know.
Corker would not have been so candid if he had known he was being recorded? That is a tough argument to make, given that the senator had tweeted hours earlier that “the White House has become an adult day care center.”
Corker also told reporters — on camera — last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly are the “people that help separate our country from chaos.”
Corker, who recently announced that he will not seek reelection next year, is speaking pretty freely these days.
The clincher is that Corker, as it turns out, not only knew that his conversation with Times reporter Jonathan Martin was being recorded but also requested that it be recorded. Here's what Martin wrote on Tuesday:
Far from being set up, Mr. Corker asked that I tape our conversation.
“I know they’re recording it, and I hope you are, too,” he said as two of his aides listened in on other lines, one of them also taping the interview.
As with most on-the-record discussions with an elected official, I was recording our conversation to ensure accuracy.
And after Mr. Corker got off the phone, his two aides made sure I had recorded the call. Like the senator, they wanted to ensure his extraordinary charges were precisely captured.
As if that were not enough to render Trump's complaint completely bogus, the Times likely would have been on firm legal ground, even if it had recorded Corker without his knowledge or consent. I'll let the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard explain the rules:
Federal law and many state wiretapping statutes permit recording if one party (including you) to the phone call or conversation consents. Other states require that all parties to the communication consent.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell which law applies to a communication, especially a phone call. For example, if you and the person you are recording are in different states, then it is difficult to say in advance whether federal or state law applies, and if state law applies which of the two (or more) relevant state laws will control the situation. Therefore, if you record a phone call with participants in more than one state, it is best to play it safe and get the consent of all parties.
Martin told me that he was in Virginia, a one-party-consent state, when he spoke by phone with Corker. Corker's office did not immediately respond to a Fix inquiry about the senator's location at the time of the call, but both his home state of Tennessee and the District of Columbia are single-party-consent jurisdictions, too.
There is simply no evidence to suggest wrongdoing by the Times, as Trump suggested.