Spicer won’t discuss whether Trump records his White House conversations

“He’s simply stating a fact, the tweet speaks for itself, I’m moving on.”

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether the Trump administration is recording discussions that take place on the White House grounds.

The topic of recording devices in the White House was a hot one during Friday’s news conference, which took place hours after President Trump posted a tweet suggesting he may have recorded conversations he had with former FBI Director James Comey. Trump issued a thinly veiled threat to release them if Comey spoke out about the circumstances surrounding Trump’s decision to fire him.

The New York Times, citing associates of Comey’s, reported Thursday that Trump sought a loyalty pledge from Comey during a private dinner that happened on January 27 — the day after acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed White House Counsel Donald McGahn about the FBI’s determination that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was misleading people about his communications with Russian officials and might be vulnerable to blackmail.


The very first question Spicer faced on Friday was, “Did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey?”

“I’ve talked to the president. The president has nothing further to add on that,” Spicer said, refusing to elaborate.

“Are there recording devices in the Oval Office or the residence?” Jeff Mason of Reuters followed up.

“As I said for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that,” Spicer said.

Mason snuck in one more question, asking Spicer if Trump “thinks it’s appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak.”

Spicer took issue with the characterization.

“I don’t think — that’s not a threat,” he said. “He’s simply stating a fact, the tweets speaks for itself, I’m moving on.”

Reporters weren’t satisfied. Asked whether “anyone in this White House has an audio recording of the January 27th dinner between the former FBI director and the president of the United States,” Spicer replied, “I’m not aware of that.” Spicer also refused to answer another question about whether conversations in the Oval Office are being recorded.


Comey, for what it’s worth, doesn’t sound too worried about Trump’s threat. CNN, citing “a source familiar with the matter,” reported on Friday that Comey is “not worried about any tapes” of conversations between him and Trump. NBC reported the same thing.

Also on Friday, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported that Comey was “taken aback” by Trump’s request for a personal assurance of loyalty during the dinner. Spicer, however, flatly denied that Trump ever made such a request.

As former White House lawyer Daniel Jacobson pointed out, if Trump is recording Oval Office conversations, he’s required to preserve them in accordance with the Presidential Records Act, which was enacted after it became known that President Nixon was recording White House conversations.

Trump’s tweet also invoked the specter of Nixon for presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

If Thursday and Friday are any indication, Trump isn’t particularly concerned about legalities. During his Thursday interview with NBC, Trump may have written his own articles of impeachment by admitting he was motivated to fire Comey because of his frustrations about the FBI’s active and escalated investigation into his campaign — a move that may constitute obstruction of justice.


And according to Norm Eisen, former chief ethics counsel for President Obama, Trump’s “tapes” tweet may have constituted witness intimidation.