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Trump: There Are No Comey Tapes        06/23 06:01

   Ending a month-long guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and 
that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy, President Donald 
Trump declared he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private 
conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ending a month-long guessing game that he started with a 
cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy, 
President Donald Trump declared he never made and doesn't have recordings of 
his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey.

   "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, 
unmasking and illegal leaking of information," Trump tweeted Thursday, he has 
"no idea" whether there are "tapes" or recordings of the two men's 
conversations. But he proclaimed "I did not make, and do not have, any such 
recordings."

   That left open the possibility that recordings were made without his 
knowledge or by someone else. But he largely appeared to close the saga that 
began in May, just days after he fired Comey, then the head of an investigation 
into Trump associates' ties to Russian officials. Trump has disputed Comey's 
version of a January dinner during which the director said the president had 
asked for a pledge of loyalty.

   Trump responded at that time, via Twitter, that Comey "better hope that 
there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the 
press!"

   That apparently angry missive triggered a series of consequences, each 
weightier than the last. Comey has suggested that the tweet prompted him to ask 
an associate to release damaging information to the media. The resulting news 
reports built pressure on a top Justice Department official to appoint an 
independent prosecutor to oversee the Russia investigation. That special 
counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, is now reportedly investigating 
Trump's own actions in a probe that could dog his presidency for the 
foreseeable future.

   Trump showed concern about that situation as well, telling Fox News Channel 
in an interview that Mueller is "very, very good friends with Comey which is 
bothersome."

   Trump's declaration now that there are no recordings appears to settle a key 
dynamic in that investigation: It's now the president's word against Comey's 
notes.

   Without recordings, Comey's version of his conversations with Trump --- 
which he documented at the time, shared with close associates and testified 
about to Congress --- will likely play a key role as prosecutors consider 
whether Trump inappropriately pressured the lawman to drop the investigation 
into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Investigators will also 
weigh the credibility of Comey against a president who has shown a wobbly 
commitment to accuracy.

   Trump's tweets, old and new, left many perplexed about whether there was 
motive or strategy behind the whole affair. The president appeared to enjoy 
ginning up mystery and spinning Washington reporters about the possibility 
there was a trove of surreptitiously recorded Oval Office conversations.

   "I think he was in his way instinctively trying to rattle Comey," former 
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump confidant, said before the 
Thursday tweets. "He's not a professional politician. He doesn't come back and 
think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: 'I'll out-bluff you.'"

   Thursday's revelation came a day ahead of a deadline to turn over any tapes 
to the House intelligence committee. The timing drew attention away from the 
release of the Senate's health care bill, which the White House hopes can 
provide Trump a much-needed legislative victory to boost his sagging poll 
numbers.

   But the episode tired Trump's defenders and aides, who for weeks have been 
dodging questions about the recordings. Advisers who speak to Trump regularly 
have said he had not mentioned the existence of tapes during their 
conversations. More than a half-dozen aides said they were unaware of any 
recording devices. All demanded anonymity to speak about private discussions 
with the president.

   White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday she didn't 
think Trump regretted the initial tweet. As for his possible motivation, she 
would only say it was perhaps about "raising the question of doubt in general." 
She also could not explain Trump's new reference to possible surveillance.

   Trump's earlier suggestion about tapes evoked the secret White House 
recordings that led to Richard Nixon's downfall in the Watergate scandal. 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.

   Mark Warner of Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, 
said, "This administration never ceases to amaze me." He said the tweeting is 
an example of Trump's "willingness to just kind of make things up."

   "It's remarkable the president was so flippant to make his original tweet 
and then frankly stonewall the media and the country for weeks," Warner said. 
"I don't know how this serves the country's interests."

   This is not the first time that Trump, the former star of reality TV and 
tabloids, has manufactured a melodrama that begins with bluster but often ends 
with a whimper.

   Trump flirted with presidential runs in 1988 and 2000 before abandoning 
them. He offered to help rebuild the World Trade Center in 2004 but never 
followed through. And his embrace of birtherism, which questioned whether Obama 
was born in the United States and was eligible to become president, fueled his 
own political rise. He never produced any evidence.

   The pattern has continued since Trump's election.

   On New Year's Eve, he claimed he knew "things that other people don't know" 
about foreign hacking of last year's election, and that the information would 
be revealed "on Tuesday or Wednesday." Those days came and went without an 
answer. In March, he tweeted the incendiary claim that he was wiretapped by his 
predecessor, a charge he's never supported.

   He's brought trouble to his White House.

   At a Senate committee hearing this month, Comey suggested that the 
president's reference to possible recordings inspired him to disclose to the 
media through an intermediary a memo he had written of their Oval Office 
conversation. In that meeting, according to the memo, Trump told Comey he hoped 
he would let the Flynn investigation go. Comey said he understood that to be a 
request to drop the probe.

   One week after the memo was disclosed, the Justice Department appointed 
Mueller as special counsel to take over the investigation into contacts between 
Russia and the Trump political campaign.


(KA)

 
 
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