Given that the transcript released is not word for word and that it contains a disclaimer explaining it's not a 'verbatim transcript', why has no one, whether Democrats seeking to impeach, or Republicans seeking to defend, requested the original tape, in order that it can be heard/transcribed verbatim?

[Update] some have pointed out that presidential 'phone calls are not recorded on audio tape, so I will rephrase the question to "why has no one demanded whatever it was that was moved to a secret server"?

I.e this:

The White House has admitted moving details of a telephone call between Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart to a classified server, according to CNN.

The admission appears to back up one of the claims made by a whistleblower about efforts to conceal evidence of the controversial call, which has led to an impeachment investigation against the president.


Why is no one asking to see/hear whatever was moved to that secret server?

  • 8
    You are assuming that "a tape" exists of audio of the two presidents. I'm not at all certain that your assumption is correct. Secondly, "tape" is usually associated with an analog recording of audio, today's technology (with the possible exception of the music industry) relies on digital recordings that are preserved in digital records or files.
    – BobE
    Nov 14, 2019 at 14:00
  • 3
    @BobE related: Are the US President's phone calls recorded?
    – JJJ
    Nov 14, 2019 at 14:30
  • 3
    Yes, as well politics.stackexchange.com/q/47230/15671
    – BobE
    Nov 14, 2019 at 14:52
  • 25
    @BobE "tape" is used colloquially to refer to any unedited audio or video recording, not just ones on physical tapes. Nov 14, 2019 at 22:34
  • @JustinLardinois - my comment was not intended to be critical, but to be more technically correct. In the colloquial sense, however, "tape" can be either ediited or unedited
    – BobE
    Nov 15, 2019 at 16:56

2 Answers 2


Richard Nixon was the last president to record his phone calls, and they were used against him in his impeachment. Between 1974 and 2017, presidents have not recorded their phone calls, instead relying on written transcripts by those intelligence officials listening in on the call. In 2017, President Trump further restricted who was allowed to listen in on his phone calls and who was allowed to write notes, restricting it to only those people he had personally hired.

Rough transcripts of the calls — there are no recordings from which they are based, and they can vary in their level of detail — were, at the beginning of the administration, widely shared documents that could be viewed by the White House chief of staff, officials at the National Security Council and people working in the region at the State Department or the Defense Department. That changed after the full transcripts of Mr. Trump’s conversations with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia were leaked in 2017. In his call with Mexico’s leader, Mr. Trump stated that he was not actually concerned with whether Mexico would pay for the wall he wanted to build on the southwestern border, his signature campaign promise, but grew testy about the way it might look if Mexico didn’t. “If you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that,” Mr. Trump said, according to the transcript. The Trump administration took what one official called “extreme steps” to restrict who can listen in on the president’s phone calls. The leaks fed Mr. Trump’s fear that a “deep state” embedded in the government was seeking to undermine him from within. A second former official said those leaks were viewed internally as “really shocking” and under the orders of Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, the decision was made to tightly limit the distribution of the transcripts.

So unless the Ukrainians recorded the call (which they have not as yet admitted to doing), there is no audio recording, and all transcripts were made by Trump appointees.

  • 4
    It is a bit into the weeds, but my understanding is that, while you are quite correct about audio recordings of the president's voice on telephone calls, but the actual transcription process involves a transcriptionist (called a "voice writer" - look it up) who repeats verbatim (word for word) everything that is said on both sides of the conversation. The audio of the voice-writer is converted to digital text using speech recognition software that is displayed, in real time on networked computers. Generally both the audio of the voice-writer and the software output are preserved.
    – BobE
    Nov 14, 2019 at 14:29
  • 9
    @BobE - Do you have a source for that? The existence of a recording of a (nominally) word-for-word repetition of the call casts a very different light on what has and hasn't been released, and I haven't come across anyone else saying that such a recording exists.
    – Bobson
    Nov 14, 2019 at 17:05
  • 7
    "Richard Nixon was the last president to record his phone calls" - that we know of.
    – Vikki
    Nov 14, 2019 at 22:15
  • 6
    @Bobson continuing: after checking with several commercial transcription companies (that provide services for Congressional hearings), they tell me that they will traditionally maintain the audio recording of the transcriptionist (person repeating the words they hear on the call) as well as the digital output from the speech recognition software for a minimum of 6 months. The point is that there is , at minimum, a digital record/file of the software's output. It is this file that Vindland complains he had to print (go analog) because he was unable to do on screen editing (think Word markup)
    – BobE
    Nov 15, 2019 at 0:17
  • 5
    Perhaps they could ask Putin to give us his recordings of the calls.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 15, 2019 at 21:14

Republicans, seeking to defend the July 25 telephone conversation have been frustrated because the White House that has actively blocked or refused to cooperate in their own defense. If the verbatim transcription would provide the administration with an effective defense, the refusal, or neglect to provide exculpatory evidence gives the appearance that the verbatim transcript might be more damaging versus helpful in defense.

Democrats, on the other hand, have asked the White House for documents relative to the 25 July telephone call Committee request for documents Sept 9 and 24 and have been rebuffed by White House Counsel Cippolone letter to Schiff et al and PDF. The transcript is specifically called out in the Sept 24th letter:

"documents requested by the Committees - particularily the transcript pf the President's July 25, 2019, phone call with newly-elected Ukrainian President"

In addition, the Inspector General for the intelligence committee has notified the Director of National Intelligence:

For your information, the ICIG has sent, concurrently with this transmittal, a notice of document access request and a document hold notice to the White House counsel to request access to and the preservation of any and all records related to the President's telephone call with the Ukranian President on July 25, 2019 ...

By anyone's definition the words "any and all" would encompass the raw, unedited transcript.

  • 10
    Pure opinion. I'll note that it's undisputed that Rep Schiff has not approved quite a few Republican-requested witnesses, so while your opinion that "the White House has actively blocked or refused to cooperate in their own defense" may or may not be true, it's indisputable that Rep Schiff has blocked White House attempts at defense.
    – Just Me
    Nov 14, 2019 at 15:12
  • 31
    @JustMe The list of witnesses requested are a matter of public record, and the only two that I can find that were denied were the original whistleblower and Hunter Biden. Considering we have much better witnesses now than the whistleblower and that Hunter Biden has absolutely nothing useful to say in whether or not Donald J Trump committed a crime, I fail to see how the Democrats are impeding his defense.
    – Carduus
    Nov 14, 2019 at 16:04
  • 8
    @JustMe, see my added sources for "actively blocked or refused..." Regardless, the question asked is: Why has no one requested the tape? In that context, if "the tape" would provide exculpatory evidence, the WH ought to present it. As of this date I've not heard any Republican asking to enter it into evidence.
    – BobE
    Nov 14, 2019 at 16:18
  • 9
    @Just Me: While I am not a lawyer, my understanding of whistleblower protection laws is that it would be illegal for the whistleblower to be called and identified as being the whistleblower.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 14, 2019 at 16:45
  • 9
    @Bobson: FTM, the whistleblower might even be among the list of witnesses to be called. (Or might even be one of those refusing to respond to the Congressional subpoena.) As long as s/he isn't actually identified as the whistleblower, there shouldn't be a problem. But if there are better witnesses, or even hard evidence like call transcripts, what would be the point?
    – jamesqf
    Nov 14, 2019 at 18:41

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