After President Donald Trump posted a cryptic tweet about tapes of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey, the words on everyone’s lips at the White House lately are, “Where are the tapes?”
It’s a question journalists can’t seem to get an answer to and the White House is now referring inquiries about the existence, or nonexistence of tapes, to Trump’s personal attorney.
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
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The Secret Service denied the agency has tapes in response to an Freedom of Information Act request by the New York Times, saying, “There are no records pertaining to your request.”
But presidential historian and liberal journalist Rick Perlstein isn’t buying it. He says there should at least be tapes of any telephone conversations between the president and Comey.
When Trump fired Comey last month just as the investigation into ties between the Trump administration and Russian election hacking heated up, rumors soared about whether the president’s firing of the nation’s top law enforcement official rose to obstruction of justice — a claim for which the FBI may or may not be investigation Trump.
In a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that followed, Comey addressed Trump’s tweet saying, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
And in a video made in collaboration with MoveOn.org, a progressive public policy advocacy group and political action committee, Perlstein says there should be some.
“As I understand it, every White House phone call is already recorded. That means there should exist on some server somewhere in the White House, a very thorough record of the kind of phone calls that nay investigator of the Trump campaign and the Trump White House’s ties to Russia any obstruction of justice regarding the investigation of those ties, should be able to access,” Perlstein said.
The White House phone system operates on a voice-over internet protocol, which basically stores all White House phone calls as digital files on a server so an automated process can generate a transcript of those calls so they can be reviewed, according to Perlstein.
“That transcript would be a presidential record in the Presidential Record Act. It would be illegal to destroy it and it could be subpoenaed by an investigator like Robert Mueller, turned into a transcript that he would have at his fingertips,” Perlstein said in the video.
It would be illegal, under the Presidential Records Act, for anyone in the White House to attempt to destroy those records, he added.