More Details On 7 Hours “Missing” From 1/6 White House Phone Logs

They're not missing and that points to a systemic issue

On Tuesday, Steven brought us the story about how there was a 7-hour gap in the White House phone record on 1/6/2021. Because the gap occurred at a page break in the formatted record, there were concerns that perhaps the record had been redacted for nefarious reasons. Yesterday, after checking with sources familiar with the matter, CNN’s reporting team proclaimed the record complete and offered an explanation for the gap that many had suspected:

According to multiple sources familiar with Trump’s phone behavior and the White House switchboard records, the January 6 log reflects Trump’s typical phone habits. He mainly placed calls through the switchboard when he was in the residence but rarely used it when he was in the Oval Office. The fact the log does not show calls on January 6, 2021, from the Oval Office is not unusual, said the sources, because Trump typically had staff either place calls directly for him on landlines or cell phones. Those calls would not be noted on the switchboard log.

The six pages of White House switchboard logs for January 6, 2021, are complete based on an official review of White House records, according to a source familiar with the matter. There are no missing pages and the seven-hour gap is likely explained by use of White House landlines, White House cell phones and personal cell phones that do not go through the switchboard.

https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/31/politics/mystery-call-gap-trump-jan-6-white-house-phone-logs/index.html

This also matches previous reporting that people seeking to reach the President would often txt and call people close to him, like Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, rather than attempt to call the president directly.

As with many other aspects of the Trump presidency, this story demonstrates another case of where our expectation of oversight through the reliance on “norms” has failed us. Returning to the CNN article:

There could be various reasons that explain the gap in the call log itself.

One possibility is that Trump was speaking to people from a cell phone. As CNN has previously reported, Trump had a habit of using his and other people’s phones to make or receive calls

Another explanation could be that Trump had aides place direct calls from the Oval Office, bypassing the switchboard.

[…]

The missing calls also underscore something more endemic: the imperfect and antiquated system of tracking a president’s communications.

The White House call log is generated by a switchboard system that dates back to the 1960s, according to the National Archives. The version installed in 1963 was already considered “somewhat outdated” just two decades later.

And it’s certainly not one suited for the era of cell phones and text messages or to a President well known for his efforts to circumvent official channels of communications.

So to some degree, this appears to be an issue of the White House’s communications tracking infrastructure failing to keep pace with communications technology. And, given that it’s the Executive Branch’s responsibility to maintain and upgrade that infrastructure, one wonders how much leaving these record-keeping holes is a bipartisan action. As CNN notes, President Trump was far from the first to exploit them:

A former White House staffer who served in the Obama administration told CNN that if then-President Barrack Obama wanted to make a call to someone from the Oval Office, he would normally ask an aide seated nearby to dial the person. The aide would then call the number and hit transfer to connect the caller to the President.

That call would not go through the White House switchboard and therefore would not be recorded on the White House switchboard log, the former staffer said.

There is an argument to be made that immediate transparency is not always a good thing. For example, you don’t want secret negotiations to be revealed through phone logs. That said, as we are seeing with the 1/6 investigation, that ability to conceal can be used intentionally or not, in many different ways.

The Presidential Records Act was passed by Congress in 1978 as a response to Watergate. The last time it was amended was in 2014 (to protect electronic records). Perhaps it’s time for the act to be revisited in order to better account for a world in which traditional “switchboards” are all but obsolete. Of course, that would require a bipartisan interest in Congress enacting its oversight duties, and as we have seen, there’s often a bipartisan agreement to avoid limiting the power of the Presidency (because each side believes that their guy will only use those exceptions for the good of the party… I mean country).

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, General, Politicians, Presidency, Science & Technology, US Politics
Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matt Bernius is a design researcher working to create more equitable government systems and experiences. He's currently a Principal User Researcher on Code for America's "GetCalFresh" program, helping people apply for SNAP food benefits in California. Prior to joining CfA, he worked at Measures for Justice and at Effective, a UX agency. Matt has an MA from the University of Chicago.

Comments

  1. Christine says:

    Sadly, this story is a nothing burger as well as the attempt to make it on par with the 18 1/2 minutes gap on the Watergate tapes.

  2. just nutha says:

    for the good of the party … I mean country.

    No. You had it right the first time. “What’s good for General Motors the party is good for…”

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  3. just nutha says:

    @Christine: I don’t know which is sadder: that the 7-hour gap potentially is on par with the 18 1/2 minute gap you mention or that in real terms it is a nothing burger because half the nation really doesn’t give a shit anymore.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    This whole 8 hour gap thing is reminding me of the Hunter Biden Laptop nothingburger. The MSM at the time reported that there was a laptop, or a hard drive, or something. But they couldn’t validate any of the story and even if they could, there didn’t seem to really be much to it. Now the Mighty RW Wurlitzer is trying to make a big deal out of the MSM not making a big deal out of it. But there still doesn’t seem to be much there there. Most of the stories I saw about the 8 hour gap said it might not be a deletion but that Trump was making and taking calls that bypassed the switchboard. Now the Wurlitzer will try to claim the MSM said it was a deliberate deletion.

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  5. mattbernius says:

    @Christine:
    Admittedly I’m struggling with head cold related brain fog, but I’m not sure “nothingburger” is the right term to use here.

    At the end of the day the 7 hour gap wasn’t the result of an intentional deletion after the fact. That said, by that point in the Presidency, all involved also knew what they were doing in terms of circumventing the Presidential Records Act. So the underlying intent most likely remains the same.

    But I have no sense what to call that… a “somethingburger”?

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  6. DK says:

    Would anyone care even if it had been deliberately deleted? No one cared about the Trump White House usage of private email and unsecured private phones. Trump’s theft and destruction of classified documents has already been memory-holed.

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    @DK: They’d care about as much as they cared about the W admins failures. The apparently untrue story that outgoing Ds stole W keys from West Wing keyboards got more coverage than W’s people doing government business with RNC email addresses hosted on an RNC server.

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  8. Christine says:

    If calls from cell phones and the Oval Office desk phone or any landline are not logged (which Presidents of both parties have made) the log is useless in these modern times. Unless Jan 6 was an anomaly by the absence of calls on the log, it’s a nothing burger IMHO, just like Hunter’s laptop. Wouldn’t the contents of the laptop have been exposed by now if there really was something? By contrast, does the absence of something really prove anything? It’s propaganda to outrage the left by the media.

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  9. drj says:

    @mattbernius:

    At the end of the day the 7 hour gap wasn’t the result of an intentional deletion after the fact.

    The suspicion was always burner phones.

    So this:

    The six pages of White House switchboard logs for January 6, 2021, are complete based on an official review of White House records, according to a source familiar with the matter.

    is meaningless.

  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I mean – it’s NOT a nothing-burger.
    There is a 7+ hour gap, during the time the former President was staging a bloody coup attempt, that his communications were not recorded.
    It would certainly be useful, in the quest to defend the Constitution and the Republic, to know who he spoke with during that time.
    That it is a systemic problem doesn’t lessen the concern.

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  11. Mu Yixiao says:

    I’m slightly confused….

    There are no missing pages and the seven-hour gap is likely explained by use of White House landlines, White House cell phones and personal cell phones that do not go through the switchboard.

    I can understand not having records from personal phones (and burners). But…The White House doesn’t have the ability to get the call logs for phones that it owns?

    Our company has a record of every call that comes in to or goes out of the building (direct dial or through the main reception line), and gets a list of all calls on company cell phones every month.

    I get that it’s not on the “Switchboard logs”, but… they have to have a record of calls made to/from WH phones.

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  12. Kathy says:

    The way I read it is that there was no specific Jan 6 Putsch cover-up, but rather that it was part of an ongoing four-year cover-up of all Benito’s time filling the seat behind the resolute desk.

    BTW, some years ago the cell provider also provided landline service. It was great. You could field a call on your desk phone for someone outside the office, and transfer it to their cell phone directly. You could also redirect calls from your desk phone to your cell. Not to mention if I was out of the office, I could dial a coworker’s extension and get them at their desk directly.

    We’ve switched providers since then and such services are no longer offered. But surely the presidential offices of what claims to be a first world country can afford something like this, and keep accurate records.

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  13. DK says:

    @gVOR08: Ah, yes, the Bush White House’s infamous private RNC server from which 22 million emails were “lost” in the midst of the Valerie Plame affair, yet somehow it wasn’t a scandal worth a year and a half of breathless media coverage. How could I forget?

    Oh right: like the Trump crime family’s use of private emails and unsecured phones and mishandling, theft, and destruction of classified records, it wasn’t Hillary Clinton so it doesn’t matter. That’s how I could forget.

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  14. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: Yes, the nation probably could have the sort of service you describe, but it would literally take an act of Congress to accomplish having it. How likely is that?

  15. Matt Bernius says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I can understand not having records from personal phones (and burners). But…The White House doesn’t have the ability to get the call logs for phones that it owns?

    My guess is that this is a case of one of two things:
    1. The use of personal cell phones (which could include burners, but doesn’t need to).
    2. A case of where the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law is being followed. I.e. reporting only what the law specifically specifies. Unfortunately my brain fog is too great for me to process statute right now.

    There’s also this:

    In theory, the law would require the preservation of emails, text messages and phone records — no matter the device used for the communication, said presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky.

    The problem is, there’s no real mechanism to enforce the law, and there’s also never been a case where a former commander in chief has been punished for violating the Presidential Records Act. The statute by definition depends on the goodwill of presidents and their staff to police their own record keeping.

    source: https://www.kktv.com/2022/03/30/explainer-what-law-says-about-presidential-records/

    This kinda brings us back to the Thomas discussion where there is statute that stated that he should be disqualified from that case, but there is no method to actually enforce it (in part because there is no court above the Supreme Court to make that decision).

  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    Ok, but we know that people like Kevin McCarthy called Trump during this time. What number did he call. That’s on record. If you can subpoena the White House call log, you can subpoena Kevin McCarthy’s call log to find what number he called. And then you can subpoena that phone’s call log. Right? Am I missing something. This is a lot of legwork, yeah, but it seems important.

    And Trump called some Senators during this time, right? For instance, Mike Lee. What number did he call them from? What does Rudy Giuliani’s call log look like.

    The truly disciplined way to use burner phones is to use them for one call only. I kinda doubt that’s how this crowd did it, though. But if it did, that’s interesting, right?

    Really, am I not getting something?

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  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Mu, from the experience of selling phone tech to government agencies, they are loath to move away from in place technology. The WH phone system dates from the early 60’s which means it is not at all computer friendly. Most likely it is a now, obsolete, central office switch. So imagine relays and switches and not transistors. Heck, its probably a plug board. In the early 70’s I worked summers at a defense contractor and in a brand new building that had maybe 1000 phones, there were 6 operators connecting inbound calls with a plug board.

    Call accounting became a thing for phone systems in the late ~70’s, but it was predicated on the brains of the phone system being computerized, with the call accounting connecting to a multi pin connector.

    1
  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    If Trump was making insecure cell calls from the White House someone out there in intel world has a recording.

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  19. de stijl says:

    Mass rallies where a “charismatic” candidate leads the gathered mob in chanting “Lock her up” certainly comes to mind. My mind, at least.

    Along with proverbs about reaping and sowing. Casting stones. Motes in eyes. Et cetera.

    “Russia, if you are listening…”

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  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Christine: It’s propaganda to outrage the left by the media.

    No, no it’s not. It’s the media trying to get there the firstest with whatever they can confirm, and they’ll get the details right later. Maybe a whole lot later. Right now, they just wanna get clicks.

    Remember Benghazi? That wasn’t propaganda to outrage the right. Neither was Hillary’s emails. It’s just the clicks.

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  21. JustAGirl says:

    “The MSM at the time reported that there was a laptop, or a hard drive, or something. But they couldn’t validate any of the story”

    Now THAT is quality gaslighting.

    1. Multiple “alternative” media sources confirmed it was Hunter Biden’s laptop and the information on it was legitimate.

    2. CNN, MSNBC, and almost all of the rest of the mainstream media flat out refused to even try and confirm the story themselves.

    3. A 100% BS lie that the laptop was “Russian disinformation” was spread far and wide through the mainstream media instead.

    4. That lie was used to justify CENSORING the story on social media and ignoring it otherwise.

    You can certainly believe Hunter’s laptop was a big fat nothingburger as a story. What happened around it, however, is really important because even if you’re a knob who only believes whatever current thing you’re supposed to believe and think this will never happen to your side, what happened around Hunter’s laptop is going to be a very, very big deal on the Right.

    Take all the Democratic whining about the coverage of Hillary’s emails, multiply it by 10, and imagine it lasting for the next 20 to 30 years. That’s what we’re in for.

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