The Reagan Tapes

Reagan Shooting
Reagan shooting outside
the Washington Hilton, 1981.

  • Listen to Part I of the interview.
  • Listen to Part II.
  • Selected Excerpts
  • Links & Resources

    March 20, 2001 -- Twenty years after a disturbed gunman tried to take President Ronald Reagan's life outside a Washington hotel, audio excerpts capture what went on at the White House in the tense hours that followed.

    The March 30, 1981 shooting launched a day of confusion and drama. While doctors sought to remove the bullet from President Reagan's chest, his senior advisers moved quickly to keep the government on course.

    National Security Adviser Richard Allen summoned members of Reagan's cabinet, including Secretary of State Al Haig and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, to the White House Situation Room. Sensing the significance of the event, Allen recorded the conversations with the permission of the participants.

    Those recordings have now been made public and transcripts appear in the April issue of The Atlantic magazine.

    The tapes provide a rare glimpse of the private conversations about who was in charge and whether the assassination attempt was part of a conspiracy.

    For many Americans, a memorable moment came when Haig seemed to misinterpret the constitutional chain of succession by declaring on national television: "I am in control here."

    Allen remembers that Haig made the same mistake in the Situation Room and the tapes capture testy exchanges over who would temporarily grasp the reins of government.

    More confusion emerged when Allen mistakenly reported that White House Press Secretary Jim Brady had been killed. He corrected himself minutes later. Brady was permanently disabled as a result of the shooting and became a prominent advocate for gun control.

    Journalists and historians have made much of the internal debate that followed the assassination attempt. In Allen's view, despite the brief flare-ups, the crisis management team worked well together after the shooting.

    Selected Excerpts

    Listen as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, and others discuss whether to increase military readiness.
    Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of State Alexander Haig And Others Discuss Military Readiness

    Listen as Secretary of State Alexander Haig and others discuss issues of presidential succession.
    Secretary of State Haig And Others Discuss Presidential Succession

    Hear a montage of scenes from the afternoon of March 30, 1981.
    Listen To A Montage Of Scenes From March 30, 1981

    Listen to an NPR newscast from March 30, 1981.
    March 30, 1981 NPR Newscast

    Hear the opening of All Things Considered on March 30, 1981.
    March 30, 1981 All Things Considered

    Links & Resources

    The Atlantic has an essay about the tapes, written by Richard Allen. Read it at The Atlantic Web site.

    Check out more photographs from March 30, 1981, at the Reagan Library Web site

    Read the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which outlines presidential succession. Check it out at