President Trump may or may not have recorded his call this weekend with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Nobody knows. And the sole source of a story this week alleging White House staffers shut off recording devices for the international call clarified Thursday that he has no idea if that or anything like it actually happened.
Trump spoke with Putin Saturday. Details of their exchange are extremely sparse, and the White House released only this vague readout describing the conversation:
President Donald J. Trump received a congratulatory call today from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The call lasted approximately one hour and ranged in topics from mutual cooperation in defeating ISIS to efforts in working together to achieve more peace throughout the world including Syria. The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair. Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today's call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.
On Wednesday, the vice president of the right-leaning American Foreign Policy Council, Ilan Berman, suggested at a panel discussion that there is, "no readout of the Trump-Putin call [because the White House] turned off recording."
Turkish journalist Ilhan Tanir tweeted Berman's comments at 9 a.m.
The next day at around 11 a.m., Raw Story published a report titled, "Foreign policy insider: 'No readout of Trump-Putin call because White House turned off recording."
The story was noticed immediately, gathering thousands of shares on social media in just a few hours. An author and activist named Geraldine then shared Raw Story's report with her more than 26,000 followers, and she, too, garnered thousands of shares within hours. Outlets far more hostile to the Trump administration, including Daily Kos and Salon, followed Raw Story's lead, and they published articles that included Berman's supposedly shocking revelation.
As the story continued to pick up steam, however, Berman chimed in with an important clarification.
"[For what it's worth], I don't know for a fact that they turned it off," he said Thursday afternoon. "Was merely saying it was curious that a [recording] didn't seem to exist."
He reiterated later that his initial comment was, "conjecture, not direct knowledge."
As of this writing, Raw Story's original note on Twitter has been re-tweeted more than 10,000 times. Geraldine's tweet has been shared more than 40,000 times.
Berman's clarification has been re-tweeted 28 times.
So is there a recording or isn't there? That's a great question, and I'm not sure what the answer is. The White House declined the Washington Examiner's request for comment. For what it's worth, presidential phone calls with world leaders generally aren't recorded, Yahoo's Olivier Knox reported in 2014.
"[T]hat's been a no-no since Richard Nixon's Watergate tapes," he wrote.
Also, it's important to remember that there is indeed a readout of Trump's call with Putin, albeit a vague one, contrary to Berman's claim.
What does that leave us?
What we have left is a story alleging the White House has taken up a practice reportedly not seen since the 1970s, and that the sole source for the Trump/Putin phone call claim has clarified he has no idea what actually happened. Also, he suggested incorrectly that there was no readout.
But hey, at least the story got plenty of clicks on social media. Great job, guys.
Raw Story amended its article Friday afternoon to reflect that Berman was just spitballing and not stating a fact. Here's a copy of their report as it originally appeared: