The president of the United States shed his normally Zen, Spock-like demeanor on Friday morning and issued a flood of tweets about the major issues that have dogged him all this week: His unprecedented decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, the bureau’s investigation into allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russian intelligence, and the evidence (up to and including the president’s own words) that he sacked Comey in order to obstruct said investigation.
Approximately 30 minutes into his tirade — this would be in Tweet Number Five —President Donald Trump suggested there might be “tapes” of his conversations with Comey that would exonerate him and reflect poorly on the ex-director.
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
It’s unclear why the president put “tapes” in scare quotes. But everything else about this tweet is perfectly clear. When the president is cornered, he has a habit of making up recordings that later prove to be totally fictitious.
Trump first availed himself of this Hail Mary tactic in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, after Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton confronted him during a live debate over his misogynistic treatment of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. A couple of days later, in the wee hours of the morning, urged his Twitter followers to look for Machado’s “sex tape.”
Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2016
There is no evidence that such a tape exists or has ever existed.
The president was at it again less than a month and a half after taking office. On March 4, in yet another early morning tweet, he rhetorically asked why former President Barack Obama had sunk so low as to “tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process.”
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Once again, despite the president’s repeated insistence, no one ever found evidence that this was the case. Instead, the tweet appeared to be a ham-fisted attempt to distract from that week’s real news: two days earlier, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from any Department of Justice business related to the Russia investigation after he was found to have lied under oath about private meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (Sessions later played a key role in Comey’s ouster, an obvious violation of his recusal promise.)
Trump has nonetheless doggedly clung to his “tapp” fantasy. More than two months later —during the same interview in which he admitted the Russia investigation was on his mind when he fired Comey — Trump described “the spying” as “a very, very big story.”
The fact that Trump is once again ranting about tapes on social media does not mean any such tapes exist. Indeed, it suggests the exact opposite: that he’s in deep trouble, and sees mythmaking as his only recourse.