Six weeks ago, Donald Trump had one of the more consequential Twitter tantrums of his career. The president, for reasons that have never been explained, wrote in a warning to the former director of the FBI, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
This 19-word missive, which came shortly before Comey’s scheduled testimony on Capitol Hill, sparked a chain reaction that included, among other things, the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump’s Russia scandal.
But against the dramatic background, there’s been an open question as to whether or not the “tapes” Trump referred to exist in reality. Asked at a press conference two weeks ago, the president said, cryptically, “Well I’ll tell you about that sometime in the very near future.” Evidently, he decided to come clean this afternoon.
President Donald Trump on Thursday tweeted that he did not record his conversations with then-FBI Director James Comey, putting to rest one of the biggest lingering mysteries surrounding the drama between the president and the FBI head he later dismissed.
Specifically, the president wrote in another pair of tweets, “With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”
Note, the first half of this message seems designed to suggest some nefarious forces may have recordings of Trump, while the second half is his carefully worded – no doubt lawyer approved – denial.
Why it took the president six weeks to bring clarity to this simple question is something the White House has not yet explained.
I imagine Trump’s concession will curtail the discussion about the tapes – unless, of course, there’s reason to believe today’s denial is itself untrue – but the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent raised a point a couple of weeks ago that resonates.
Now the president and his team have grudgingly acknowledged that Trump’s tweet was bogus, Greg argued, it’s effectively been confirmed that “Trump invented the existence of these tapes to chill Comey from offering a full public accounting of the events leading up to his firing.”
Agreed. Many have long been skeptical of Trump’s oblique reference to secret recording that, evidently, don’t exist. But the underlying question is still in need of answer: why exactly did the president publish this tweet in the first place?