BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith has been told by staffers at the New York Times that an audio tape exists of Donald Trump telling the editorial board of the newspaper that he wasn’t serious about advancing his immigration policies.
The meeting with the editorial board took place in early January, with some of the conversation being off the record and some on. The Times is not going to release the audio because that portion of the interview was off the record.
Trump visited the paper’s Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday, Jan. 5, part of a round of editorial board meetings that — as is traditional — the Democratic candidates for president and some of the Republicans attended. The meetings, conducted partly on the record and partly off the record in a 13th floor conference room, give candidates a chance to make their pitch for the paper’s endorsement.
After a dispute over Trump’s suggestion of tariffs on Chinese goods, the Times released a portion of the recording. But that was from the on-the-record part of the session.
On Saturday, columnist Gail Collins, one of the attendees at the meeting (which also included editor-in-chief Dean Baquet), floated a bit of speculation in her column:
The most optimistic analysis of Trump as a presidential candidate is that he just doesn’t believe in positions, except the ones you adopt for strategic purposes when you’re making a deal. So you obviously can’t explain how you’re going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, because it’s going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session.
Sources familiar with the recording and transcript — which have reached near-mythical status at the Times — tell me that the second sentence is a bit more than speculation. It reflects, instead, something Trump said about the flexibility of his hard-line anti-immigration stance.
So what exactly did Trump say about immigration, about deportations, about the wall? Did he abandon a core promise of his campaign in a private conversation with liberal power brokers in New York?
I wasn’t able to obtain the recording, or the transcript, and don’t know exactly what Trump said. Neither Baquet, Collins, nor various editorial board members I reached would comment on an off-the-record conversation, which the Times essentially said they cannot release without approval from Trump, given the nature of the off-the-record agreement.
Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal told me he would not comment “on what was off the record at our meeting with him.”
“If [Trump] wants to call up and ask us to release this transcript, he’s free to do that and then we can decide what we would do,” Rosenthal said.
It would be interesting if Trump called the Times’ bluff and approved the release of the audio. But in reality, Trump’s “confession,” if accurate, is only an acknowledgement of a reality that many of his supporters refuse to accept: you can’t round up and deport 11 million people and you can’t build a 2,000-mile wall that would effectively keep anyone out.
Both projects would be a gigantic waste of taxpayer money. Trump is not an idiot or a fanatic. He knows full well that his plans are bogus. But as a way to win votes from Republicans, it’s a great ploy.
Even if Trump gave permission for the recording to be released, the timing would be up to them. Such a bombshell would work very well as an October surprise for the Times’ allies in the Democratic Party.