WASHINGTON — Pres. Trump tweeted a definitive answer many have been waiting for, about whether he had recordings of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.
The mystery began last month, just days after he fired Comey, who was at the time, leading the investigation into contacts between the president’s campaign and Russian officials.
A New York Times report cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted Comey’s version of a January dinner with the president in which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering to be “honest.” When Trump then pressed for “honest loyalty,” Comey told him, “You will have that,” the associates said.
Trump tweeted the next day that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
That immediately evoked the secret White House recordings that led to Richard Nixon’s downfall during Watergate. Under a post-Watergate law, the Presidential Records Act, recordings made by presidents belong to the people and can eventually be made public. Destroying them would be a crime.
Comey has claimed that any recordings would support his claims that Trump asked him to pledge loyalty and to drop the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser.
“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey declared at a congressional hearing.
But the president has steadfastly refused to clarify whether any tapes exist, until Thursday, June 22.
Two weeks ago, he teased reporters in the White House Rose Garden by saying that he’d explain “maybe sometime in the very near future.” He cryptically added: “You are going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer.” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said Wednesday that an answer would be provided this week, presumably by the Friday deadline set by the House intelligence committee for turning over any tapes.
Trump’s private counsel, Marc Kasowitz, would not be involved in the handover of any tapes, his spokesman said. A White House spokesman did not respond to a question on whether White House counsel Don McGahn would have a role.
The Secret Service has no audio copies or transcripts of any tapes recorded within Trump’s White House, according to a freedom of information request submitted by The Wall Street Journal. But that doesn’t exclude the possibility that recordings were created by another entity.
At his office in New York, Trump was known to worry about possible listening devices, but he also occasionally taped his own phone conversations. Some campaign workers also believed Trump had a system set up to record phone calls.
President Trump is known for teasing the public with claims he had proof that former Pres. Obama was not born in the United States, and therefore not eligible to run for the highest officer.
That big tease played out in 2011, when Trump promised to reveal what his private investigators had found in Hawaii about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. (Trump never did release anything.)