President Trump took to Twitter today to announce that he has no tapes or recordings of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey. In a pair of tweets, Trump stated:
With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.
The first part is a shot at what he calls “the deep state.” The second part is intended to end speculation, created by Trump, that he has tapes of Comey conversations. It comes a day before the House Intelligence Committee’s deadline for the White House to produce any such tapes.
Trump’s enemies will question whether he is telling the truth. Indeed, they already have. Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee told reporters:
We would hope that we could rely on a statement from the president. Unfortunately, the president has indicated in other statements that he is more than willing to play fast and loose with the truth.
Schiff says he plans to talk to his Republican counterpart on the Committee, Rep. Mike Conaway, about whether it’s necessary to subpoena the White House to be completely sure the president is telling the truth. I hope Conway won’t agree to this.
It seems very likely that Trump is telling the truth. If tapes existed that hurt him, he almost certainly would not have raised the possibility that tapes exist. If tapes existed that help support him rather than Comey, he almost certainly would have produced them.
Trump raised the possibility that tape exists in order to rein in Comey when he testified. He figured that the prospect of tapes would prevent the former FBI director from misstating their conversations and might make him reluctant even to get into the details for fear of making a mistake.
From all that appears, the ploy didn’t work. Comey called Trump’s bluff, saying “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”
It seems that there aren’t. This leaves Comey, who has memos he says he wrote right after the encounters, with the slightly better hand. In the end, though, where the two have conflicting recollections of what occurred, it will be a case of Trump says, Comey says.
The public probably doesn’t care very much about the dispute. And Robert Mueller shouldn’t care because even accepting Comey’s version, Trump didn’t commit any crime.
It’s possible, though, that Mueller will set a “perjury trap” for the president. Although Trump has said he will testify under oath before Congress, he is better advised not to testify under oath, period.