So, according to President Trump, there are no tapes. No muffled words captured by a microphone hidden in a lamp. No “smoking gun” statements snagged by a recorder in a vest pocket. No electronic record of what was said between President Trump and his FBI director, James Comey, right before Comey was given the boot.
That’s a shame. Because for several weeks here as the president winked and nodded at the idea, D.C. had a nice, sneaky, “Spy vs. Spy” feel.
In case you don’t know the backstory: Comey was sacked in early May and soon leaked notes of his private meetings with the president, hinting – yeah, the president maybe/kind of/sort of was trying to shut down the Russian hacking investigation, at least as it pertained to members of Team Trump. The president has denied it and responded on Twitter by saying, “Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations…”
The implication was that such tapes would refute Comey’s version of events. For his part, Comey suggested such recordings would instead prove his case, telling Congress, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!” But apparently, the Lord was not listening, because now President Trump has tweeted, “I did not make, and I do not have, any such recordings.”
So why did he even suggest there might tapes? Some White House operatives are spinning a Machiavellian explanation about pressuring Comey to tell the truth under oath. Others are saying it was…you know…just one of those things the president says.
For my part, I think it was the president doing what he does remarkably well – drawing the focus of the discussion away from things he does not like seeing in the news (i.e. the Russian investigation, his legislative struggles, Republican infighting and conflict-of-interest questions) and toward something that doesn’t matter. I suspect he knew he could twist this town into knots for weeks by merely hinting there might be something steamier, more dramatic than a mere investigation. And then when the issue had distracted folks long enough, he could simply shrug, smile and say what he knew all along. The conversations were not recorded.
But misleading the public, Congress and other officials this way is a type of deception the president seems all too willing to employ.