President Trump has, in a tweet-burst today, backtracked on his earlier menacing claim that he may have secretly recorded his meetings with then-FBI boss James Comey.
...whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2017
Trump hinted at the existence of such "tapes" shortly after his highly controversial firing of Comey. The reason first given for the sacking was that the FBI director overstepped his bounds in clearing Hillary Clinton of criminal wrongdoing regarding her private email server – but Trump said a day later that the real reason was the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between the President's inner circle and Russia. He followed that up with a thinly veiled threat:
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
In later Senate hearings, Comey said that tweet got him seriously concerned that Trump might misrepresent their conversations. He decided to leak a record of their conversations by giving it to a friend, who then passed it on to The New York Times. When questioned, Comey said that he hoped tapes did exist.
"Lordy, I hope there are tapes," Comey told Congress.
That tweet set the cat among the privacy pigeons, since the thought of such shenanigans brought back memories of the tapes that forced the resignation of President Nixon. Any recordings would also be subject to the 1978 Presidential Records Act that Watergate inspired, and must be kept for the public record.
"I think he was in his way instinctively trying to rattle Comey," former House Speaker and Trump advisor Newt Gingrich told AP shortly before Trump's tweets today. "He's not a professional politician. He doesn't come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: 'I'll outbluff you'."
The latest missives from the Tweeter-in-Chief make it clear The Donald openly threatened Comey, essentially urging the FBI man to keep his mouth shut. They are also unusually out-of-character for the serial social media addict. No #MAGA, no exclamation points or CapsLocked sentences – it's almost as if a lawyer wrote it for the President. ®