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Trump faces 'put up or shut up' moment over possible secret tapes

Donald Trump has effectively accused James Comey of perjury. If the president is going to back that up, he'll need to release the tapes -- if they exist.
Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office
President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.

Donald Trump didn't just accuse James Comey of lying to the public; the president also argued his new nemesis lied to Congress while under oath. That's no small charge: when a sitting president effectively says the former director of the FBI committed perjury, it requires some follow-up.

More specifically, it requires that president to back up those allegations in some meaningful way. In this case, that means Trump could deliver his own sworn testimony, which the president has said he's prepared to do. On CBS News' "Face the Nation" yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "I would like to invite the president to testify before the Senate. I think we could work out a way it could be dignified, public, with questions, with [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell."

Trump could also, meanwhile, turn over White House recordings of the president's conversations -- if they exist. Asked about the possibility of such tapes, Trump told reporters on Friday, "Well, I'll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future." What that means is anybody's guess. (A day earlier, a White House spokesperson, asked if such recordings have been made, replied, "I have no idea.")

Congress is starting to take the possibility of such tapes quite seriously. Politico reported:

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee are asking the White House to produce any tapes that might exist of President Donald Trump's conversations with ousted FBI director James Comey.Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lawmakers leading the investigation, asked White House counsel Don McGahn on Friday to confirm whether any tapes exist, and if so, to produce them for the committee by June 23.

They aren't alone.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member of Senate Judiciary Committee, and a veteran lawmaker with a reputation for an understated demeanor, said on Twitter yesterday, "Release the tapes, Mr. President! What are you afraid of?"

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also said yesterday, in reference to Trump, "He should voluntarily turn them over not only to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but to the special counsel.... I don't understand why the president just doesn't clear this matter up once and for all."

Soon after, Chuck Schumer issued a public challenge: "President Trump: if you disagree with anything the Director said today, play the tapes for all of America to hear. Or admit that there are no tapes."

As we discussed a month ago, it was Trump himself who broached the subject unprompted, raising the possibility of secret recordings he's made. In the weeks that have followed, the White House has refused to comment further on the subject.

Comey, in last week's testimony, said he has no idea if the recordings exist, but he has a preference: "Lordy," he told senators, "I hope there are tapes."

If there aren't, I'll look forward to Trump World explaining why the president would publicly reference the possibility of recordings that exist only in Trump's imagination.