WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump said today on Twitter that he “did not make” and doesn’t have any 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 said he has “no idea” whether there are “tapes” or recordings of the two men’s conversations. But he declares he “did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”
The tweets are the latest chapter in a high-stakes guessing game after Trump hinted that he might have recordings of his private conversations with Comey at the White House and over the phone.
The tale of mystery began last month, just days after Trump fired Comey, who was then leading an investigation into contacts before and after the election between the president’s campaign and Russian officials.
The absence of recordings almost certainly elevates in significance to investigators the notes made by Comey right after his conversations with Comey.
A New York Times report cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted his 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!”
Trump’s tweets today raised questions about why the president would have staked his reputation and political capital on promoting something that wasn’t real.
His earlier suggestion about tapes immediately 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.
Comey says any recordings that might exist would support his version that Trump asked him to pledge loyalty and urged him 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 existed.
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.
The Secret Service had said it had 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 didn’t exclude the possibility that recordings were created by another entity.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Deb Riechmann contributed reporting.