Jack Ohman

The missing Clinton tapes: Let’s look at the record ...

When I was growing up in the 1970s, one of my hobbies was following Watergate like it was the Minnesota Twins. I enjoyed Watergate a bit too much, and I’m glad the U.S. government didn’t collapse. It would be wrong, that’s for sure.

One time, I was giving a speech to a group in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, in 1992. One of the questioners asked me how I got interested in political cartooning, and I replied something like, “I loved Watergate. Watergate was fantastic. I enjoyed every minute of Watergate.”

Afterward, a nice woman who was about 60 years old came up to me. She said, “Mr. Ohman, I enjoyed your remarks.”

“Thank you.”

“I was particularly interested in your remarks about Watergate.”

“I loved Watergate.”

“I wanted to tell you I had a personal experience with Watergate.”

“Oh? What was that?”

“I was Mrs. John Ehrlichman.”

Ehrlichman was President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy adviser who served 18 months in prison for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury for his role in the Watergate scandal.

One of the main things – no, the main thing – that brought down President Richard Nixon was the existence of a taping system he had installed in the Oval Office, combined with the fact that the most critical part of those tapes was a missing 18-minute segment. Everyone agreed that taping in the White House was a really bad idea. After that, every candidate and future president had to say they were against taping. Later, we discovered that President John F. Kennedy had something of a taping system, as did President Lyndon Johnson. But to my knowledge, there hasn’t been one since.

So when I read recently that there are Bill Clinton tapes currently missing from his presidential library in Little Rock, I took notice.

He taped things? What tapes? Wasn’t his wife on the Watergate committee staff? Weren’t they all not supposed to tape things? And they’re missing?

Apparently some speechwriter did make tapes, for note-taking purposes. And they are, in fact, missing.

I’m not saying this is in the same league as Nixon. It isn’t. But it’s rather intriguing. There are some notes about what’s on the tapes, but that’s about it. No one at the Clinton Library can find them.

Huh. OK. Sure. Maybe there’s an 18-minute segment missing, too.

Let’s say they did find them. What would be on them? Would there be really bad language? That was something that really hurt President Nixon, badly. I mean, most of us in private probably express ourselves a bit more colorfully than we do in public. Except me. I’m from Minnesota, and we are very careful with our language, except when referring to weather and the Minnesota Twins.

Clinton was known anecdotally for having, shall we say, expressive language. It depends on what your definition of that is, but a friend of mine in Arkansas said he was pretty (expletive deleted) profane, even at editorial board meetings. With blue address, if you will.

Sorry. I feel your pun.

There are, however, transcripts. Clinton says things like maybe former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was “probably the prime suspect” in the murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was dragged behind a car and died. Ha. Ha.

This is probably why they don’t tape in the Oval Office anymore.

So the Clinton tapes have gone missing. Oh, well. Another day in presidential language lost to history. But when 2016 rolls around and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gets elected (most likely, according to polls), Bill will be back in the Oval Office.

He won’t be missing.