Trump denies taping Comey, but doesn’t rule out that someone else did

Is the White House bugged?

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive for the “American Leadership in Emerging Technology” event in the East Room of the White House on Thursday. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive for the “American Leadership in Emerging Technology” event in the East Room of the White House on Thursday. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

On Thursday, President Trump claimed he does not possess and did not make tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, but didn’t rule out the possibility that “electronic surveillance” had picked up their talks.

Trump first suggested tapes of his conversations with Comey exist in a tweet he posted days after he decided to fire the former FBI director amid an active FBI investigation into his campaign.

Since then, White House officials have repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether Comey tapes exist. During a June 9 news conference, Trump responded to a question about whether tapes exist by telling reporters, “I’ll tell you about that over a very short period of time.”

Trump’s tweets on Thursday came shortly after Bloomberg, citing “a person familiar with the matter,” reported that Trump “doesn’t have recordings of his conversations” with Comey.

“Trump raised the possibility of tapes in a strategic fashion to ensure that Comey told the truth, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity,” Bloomberg reported.

Trump, in other words, misled the American people in an effort to intimidate his former FBI director, who is a witness in the criminal investigation of Trump for obstruction of justice. But in his testimony, Comey actually expressed hope that tapes of his conversations with Trump do exist, telling senators, “I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

Comey testified that during private conversations at the White House, Trump asked him to pledge personal loyalty and to quash an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s lies about his communications with Russia. Trump reacted to Comey’s testimony by accusing the former FBI director of lying under oath.

Trump’s reference to “electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information” is a callback to the scandal he and his Republican allies in Congress tried to manufacture about intelligence reports detailing his advisers’ communications with Russian officials. That “scandal” was rooted in another reckless tweetstorm in which Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower.

Trump’s accusation was quickly and thoroughly debunked. In April, numerous media outlets, citing both Republican and Democratic congressional sources, reported that intelligence reports pertaining to the communications of Trump’s advisers with foreign agents were “normal and appropriate” and contained “no evidence of wrongdoing.” That didn’t stop Trump, however — in a subsequent interview, he continued to claim, without evidence, that what the Obama administration did was “horrible.”

When Trump alluded to possible “electronic surveillance” of his private talks with Comey, it wasn’t the first time he expressed extreme paranoia about the intelligence community on Thursday. Earlier in the day, he accused the intelligence community of conspiring with Democrats to manufacture evidence that Russia interfered in the presidential election on his behalf.

During a briefing with reporters shortly after Trump posted his tweets, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to expand on Trump’s comments, saying, “I think the president’s statement via Twitter today is extremely clear. I don’t have anything to add beyond the statement.”